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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Music for Violin and Harp Vol. 2
Sonata in D minor Op. 114 (1809)
Allegro vivace
Andante: Potpourri on themes from the Magic Flute
Fantasie on Themes of Danzi and Vogler in B minor Op.118 (1810)
Sonata in G major Op. 115 (1811)
Mary’s Aria from Des Heilands letzte Stunden
Lied der Emma from the drama Der Erbvertrag
Sophie Langdon (violin)
Hugh Webb (harp)
Alison Smart (soprano)
Roger Montgomery (horn)
Susan Dorey (cello)
Recorded in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Newbury, Berks on 16-18 August 2000 DDD
NAXOS 8. 555365
[73. 51]
Spohr was not only a prolific composer but also a fine violinist and pedagogue (his Violin School has never been out of use). When he was a young man he secured the appointment of Music Director at the court of Gotha, where he met and married a brilliant harpist Dorette Scheidler, having won her heart by composing a sonata (not one of the two featured here) and keeping his future mother-in-law happy by writing a concert aria for her to sing. They married in 1806 and Spohr began to study the harp in more detail which resulted in more works for the instrument. The couple went on a concert tour in 1809, for which Spohr wrote the G major sonata, while despite its earlier opus number (reflecting its earlier date of publication rather than composition) the D major sonata was written in the winter of 1810/11. In 1822 Dorette gave up her career to focus on their growing family of three daughters. The brief ‘Song of Emma’ was written for a drama entitled The Will Contract, while Mary’s aria (from his oratorio known in English as Calvary) is a touching tribute to his dying wife, with both instruments representing each member of the happy marriage partnership.

In 1986 I had the pleasure of conducting Sophie Langdon and harpist Ieuan Jones in Spohr’s Sinfonia concertante for violin and harp at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, so she is perhaps something of a Spohr specialist. That work and another of the same genre is far superior to the two sonatas and Fantasie featured here, indeed there is a threat of monotony rather early on, saved momentarily by the potpourri of Magic Flute themes, which capture the imagination and are, in part, cleverly conceived. Apart from a few patches of misjudged damping on the harp producing blurred harmonic mixtures, the two players do their best with music which is fairly hard work for comparatively little reward. The best is reserved for the last ten minutes of vocal music admirably performed by Alison Smart.

Christopher Fifield

See also review by Paul Shoemaker

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