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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Violin Concerto No. 8 in A minor, Op. 47 "In Form einer Gesangsszene" ("In the form of a vocal scene") (1816) [21.24]
Concertone No. 1 in G major for Violin and Harp, WoO 13* (1806) [22.47]
Sonata in G major for Cello and Harp, Op. 115 (1809) [24.06]
Pierre Amoyal (violin)
Marielle Nordmann (harp)*
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Armin Jordan
Klaus Storck (cello)
Helga Storck (harp)
rec. Grande Salle de Crissier, Switzerland, 13-14 Oct 1979 (Concerto, Concertante); Bennebroeck, The Netherlands, 4 Feb 1967 (Sonata)
WARNER APEX 2564 60428 2 [68.19]
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Like other second-rank romantics, Louis Spohr pretty much dropped off the concert radar in the twentieth century. However, judging from W.S. Gilbert's passing reference in The Mikado, he kept his currency through the nineteenth. His music is typical of its time in its harmonic idiom, melodic appeal and bold drama: a Schumann without the neurosis (and with a better ear for orchestral color and texture), a meat-and-potatoes Mendelssohn. Uniform surveys of his output have had to wait for the digital era, but the odd recording struggled briefly into the vinyl listings. Here, Warner has revived three such from, I assume, the Erato catalogue.

The Eighth Violin Concerto falls into a standard-looking three-movement pattern, but it is through-composed in the style of a concert aria, as the subtitle indicates. After the extroverted "operatic" gestures of the orchestral introduction - one really can't call it a ritornello, since it doesn't return in the conventional way - yielding cadences smooth the way for the soloist's recitative-like phrases, alternating with gentler repetitions of the orchestral motif. Rather like the opening of the Bruch First Concerto, this whole movement functions as an extensive introduction to the central Adagio, with its serenely spun, heartfelt melody. At 3:34 the character abruptly turns more agitated, with the violin projecting its theme in long notes over the orchestral busywork. The finale offers minor-key conflict, offset by some lighter passages, but the orchestral windup following the solo cadenza is too short - a structural miscalculation, making for an unsatisfying conclusion.

The Concertone (double concerto) for violin and harp doesn't reach the level of Mozart's analogous work for flute and harp. Granted, Spohr isn't quite Mozart, but neither is the violin as suitable a partner: in unison and octave themes, the instruments' distinctive timbres stubbornly don't mesh. As with the Mozart concerto, passage-work in thirds works nicely. Elsewhere, the harp finds itself relegated to a supporting role, arpeggiating beneath the violin - a natural enough use - or setting the stage for it, as in the Adagio: after the harp's opening chordal invocation, it tacets and the violin takes over, as in a solo concerto. The musical ideas are pleasing enough, particularly in the sprightly, buoyant finale.

Violinist Pierre Amoyal makes a persuasive case for these scores, with his clear, vibrant tone and sensitive phrasing. He injects an appealing, impulsive-sounding rubato into the filigree work, which is full-bowed and immaculate. In the long-breathed cantabiles, he soars, even when the music doesn't quite. (There is one nervous moment in the Concertone, a vaulting flourish to high E at 3:57 of the finale: the tone noticeably thins, though the pitch is true.) Marianne Nordmann's harpistry is assured and unexceptionable. The underrated Armin Jordan passes a few bits of loose chording, but leads with his customary acumen and commitment.

As a make-weight, Warner trots out a 1967 account of a duet sonata, originally composed in A-flat for violin and harp. That version, had it been available, would have been more appropriate; what we're given is the original publisher's cello-and-harp reworking. Inevitably, the cello spends much of the time playing on the higher strings, with occasional dips into the lower register providing a welcome change of texture. The harp mostly accompanies, either by arpeggiating or, sometimes, using chords to drive the cello forward. The Storcks sound fine.

The reproduction is quite good in the Eighth Concerto, less so in the Concertone. The engineers boost the harp, understandably, but they also cloak the violin in a disconcerting cloud of resonance, which doesn't help the blend. The Sonata sounds best at a slight volume cut.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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