The Fibonacci Sequence, one of Britain's foremost chamber ensembles, here performs Schubert's sublime Octet in F.
Written as a commission and modelled on Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20, Schubert's Octet takes the form of a large-scale divertimento - a piece to be listened to as recreation, not too demanding, not too serious. Composed in March 1824, and scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello, and double-bass, it is the largest in scale of Schubert's chamber works. Schubert's gift for melody and brilliant yet delicate decoration centres on the contribution of the solo violin.
The Fibonacci Sequence was founded in 1994 by its artistic director, pianist Kathron Sturrock. The group is named after Leonardo of Pisa, the great mediaeval mathematician, commonly known as Fibonacci. The series of numbers named after him occurs throughout the natural world in the most extraordinary way, appearing magically, in petals of flowers, branches of trees, and many more complex way. The relation of the numbers to each other is directly connected to the Golden Section, held by many to determine the most harmonious proportions in art and music. Now well established as one of the foremost chamber ensembles in Britain, The Fibonacci Sequence is distinguished by the quality and high profile of its players and by the imagination and variety of its programming, making full use of the range and versatility of the chamber music repertoire. Its players are noted for the zest and enthusiasm they communicate to their audience.
However, I do not find that the recording by this ensemble quite measures up to the best exponents of this lovely music. There is not quite the same sense of drive and forward momentum as on the very finest versions; there are some slips and smudges by the first violin on the same intricate figure at 4:47 and 8:13, and some impurities of tone in the horn, nor is the clarinet as rounded in tone as one would like. The opening does not quite capture the requisite sense of brooding tension and is rather obvious in its approach, lacking nuance of dynamics and phrasing. The Schubert Ensemble from Budapest, on the super-bargain Naxos label, creates a far more enticing and mysterious mood and the individual members of that ensemble are by and large more virtuosic and skilful, and more refulgent and secure of tone - as well as being far freer in expression. The Fibonacci are by comparison too foursquare in their phrasing; the horn around 2.55 lacks the lightness, legato and smooth elegance of its Budapest counterpart. The Adagio, too, lacks some poise - and the suspicion of bumpiness is accentuated by too close a recording; the instruments need a little more air around them to impart a warmth or glow. A certain thin, stringiness of tone, presumably a concession to modern HIP practice, does not serve this music well, and thus the music does not sing as it should.
While this recording is perfectly serviceable, ultimately the Schubert Ensemble is considerably more than merely competent: those musicians seem to have been born with Schubert's music in their blood. Listening to their 1992 Naxos recording made in Hungary, one hears them sing, soar and shine with an enjoyment that borders on bliss; their evident affection for the music permeates every note and it's as if the musicians and their instruments had become one being in the act of making music - I do not get this sense from listening to the Fibonacci.
Thus this Deux-Elles disc remains a fine second rank version but lacks the last degree of refinement and Viennese charm that the music requires.