A Schubert-inspired octet plus a delightful performance of the original

Pierre Fouchenneret, Shuichi Okada: Merlin, Schubert

Pierre Fouchenneret, Shuichi Okada: Merlin, Schubert

The Strad Issue: June 2020

Description: A Schubert-inspired octet plus a delightful performance of the original

Musicians: Pierre Fouchenneret, Shuichi Okada (violins) Marc Desmons (viola) Yan Levionnois (cello) Yann Dubost (double bass) Nicolas Baldeyrou (clarinet) Julien Hardy (bassoon) David Guerrier (horn)

Works: Merlin: Passage éclair. Schubert: Octet

Catalogue Number: ALPHA CLASSICS ALPHA 623

Raphaël Merlin’s 13-minute Passage éclair is written for the same forces as Schubert’s Octet, and opens with the same chord. Three linked sections contain strong jazz elements, with pizzicato bass, still and suspended string harmonies and passages of night music. It’s a fine piece, well played.

The opening movement of Schubert’s Octet is beautifully paced, imbued with elegant vitality. Melodies, fully fledged or fragmentary, are subtly shaped. It is affective playing, done with apparently Olympian effortlessness. Paul Fouchenneret, the first violinist, trips along in the staccato semiquaver passages, clean and stylish. Clarinettist Nicolas Baldeyrou plays his opening melody in the second movement with grace and charm, as do violin and cello (Yan Levionnois) later in the movement; there is some captivating pianissimo playing here. The Scherzo has some delightful vignettes, not least the cellist’s busy walking bass in the trio. In the fourth-movement Andante there is perky, insouciant playing from the first violin, who despatches his demisemiquavers in the seventh variation with aplomb, and a gracious cello melody in variation four. After the graceful Menuetto, there are many colours in the shifting dramatic landscape of the finale. This is a rewarding performance, with a clear recording in a warm but unobtrusive acoustic.