Schubert Octet in F Major / Emma Johnson and Friends / Somm Recordings

Live recordings are the way to listen to mammoth works like Schubert’s Octet. This release from Somm features Emma Johnson (clarinet), the Carducci Quartet, Christopher West (double bass), Philip Gibbon (bassoon), and Michael Thompson (horn) celebrates Schubert’s glorious work in a complete performance given at Turner Sims in Southampton.

The ensemble’s playing set in a crystal clear acoustic is spirited during the unapologetically restless first movement.

It is the second movement where the personality of the subject really emerges. A man approaching the end of his life tentatively begins looking back on his life. The musical subject first played in the clarinet and then the first violin has a simplicity which is both agonising and beautiful.

The recording style – that mixture of clarity and intimacy – really comes into its own here, giving the listener the chance to feel a part of the ensemble, feeling the music as the performers do. It is in the second movement we hear eight musicians collectively depicting one human voice with all its complexities and conflicting emotions (listen out for the counter-melody in the horn towards the end of the movement) with effortless grace.

That same clarity afforded by the acoustic gives an outdoor quality to the spirited pastoral third movement.It also lends moments in the fourth movement a haunted feeling as though we’re reflecting on a nearly forgotten memory. Later, in the final movement, we’re treated to the complexities of Schubert’s fugal writing and the distinct individual textures which make up the final soundscape.

The recording also contains a live performance of Crusell’s Concertante Op.3 with, amongst others, some ravishing bassoon solos.

Read In Conversation with clarinetist Emma Johnson in which Emma talks about the recording of this performance, her experience winning Young Musician, and the renaissance of melody. 

Emma Johnson and Friends is available on SOMM Recordings and features a performance recorded live during a concert at Turner Sims, Southampton of Schubert’s Octet in F, D 803, and Bernhard Crusell’s, Concert Trio for Clarinet, Bassoon & Horn. The performers are Emma Johnson, clarinet; Carducci Quartet; Christopher West, double bass; Philip Gibbon, bassoon; Michael Thompson, horn. 

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