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A more intimate Sage Gateshead concert sees Schubert’s Octet on top form

Newcastle Chronicle 

Schubert’s Octet, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Sage Gateshead

The new year’s series of chamber concerts in the more intimate Sage Two got under way with some memorable works from 19th Century composers better known for larger-scale productions.

Rossini carried on where Mozart had left off by composing effortlessly before he had even reached his teens. His six string sonatas were all written when he was only 12 and youthful tendencies were very apparent in the third of them, which opened the concert.

Orchestra leader for the evening, violinist Tristan Gurney, ensured that his fellows in the quartet entered into the spirit with an animated and playful interpretation.

The piece was written at the behest of a double-bass player so, unusually, this instrument – to the delight of the audience and in the very capable hands of Nikita Naumov – had an equal share of the limelight.

Richard Wagner’s wife, Cosima, must have had a surprise when she awoke to the sound of music on her birthday on Christmas Day 1870, when she found her husband conducting 15 musicians on her staircase.

Siegfried’s Idyll was both her Christmas and birthday present and was dedicated to their young son, not the Siegfried of Wagner’s famous Ring cycle.

Completing the first half, this private poem of love, played tenderly and thoughtfully by the strings, now enhanced by woodwind and brass, was a fine contrast to the fun of the Rossini piece.

Franz Schubert had the misfortune to be Beethoven’s contemporary. And on the premise that if you can’t beat him, join him, he modelled his Octet in F on the principles laid down in Beethoven’s Septet, using the same instrumental line up but with the addition of one violin part.

Delicately composed, its six distinct movements give ample opportunity for contrast and enable each musician to put their stamp on the work.

Schubert also gave prominence to the clarinet which for this concert was in the hands of Timothy Orpen, the Sinfonia’s highly-regarded principal.

The themes and rhythms come and go during its symphony-length presentation before all is resolved in a mood of gaiety and good humour.

It was delightful music played in a perfect surrounding, and if this more personal approach is to your liking, Timothy Orpen headlines his own concert in Sage Two, with just piano and viola, on February 10.

photo: New member of the Northern Sinfonia, musician Timothy Orpen, clarinet – courtesy of RNS

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