Schubert sonatas

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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Complete String Quintets Volume 2

Quintet No.3 in B minor Op.69 (1826)
Quintet No.4 in A minor Op.91 (1833-34)
New Haydn Quartet with Sándor Papp (viola II)
Recorded April 1994 at the Unitarian Church, Budapest
NAXOS 8.555966 [63.44]

If Iím not mistaken Volume One in this series, which I reviewed here, was followed by Volume Three and now we backtrack for this one. All are, in any case, reissues of a Marco Polo series devoted to Spohrís Quartets and Quintets in commendably resilient performances given by the New Haydn Quartet (elsewhere the Danubius Quartet play a strong role in the series), augmented in the Quintets by their compatriot Sándor Papp.

The B minor Quintet dates from Spohrís first years in Kassel, a time of considerable renown for the virtuoso violinist composer, as his opera Jessonda and oratorio Die letzten Dinge had recently been performed to acclaim. The quatuor brillant style, of which Spohr was so established a master, is still evident in these works and the first violin is decidedly primus inter pares as well Ė in works Spohr would himself have played this is no surprise. He manages technical adroitness and expressive delicacy, maintaining in the first movement a good balance between the pensive and the fresh and vests the Scherzo with a confident if avuncular drive. As the notes rightly say the slow movement, taken at good and forward-moving tempo here, has a hymnal quality about it, the first violin also soaring high above the reflective material. The finale is a touch long winded but affable and beautifully lucid in compositional terms - a barcarolle-like movement that often moves into the major but that ends with quiescent, almost quizzical introspection.

The later A minor Quintet rather lacks those qualities that make the B minor so attractive and despite the valiant efforts of Keith Warsop, Chairman of the Spohr Society of Great Britain in his notes, this is a less rewarding work to which to listen. Spohrís affinity of and mastery over the elastic melody in his writing is evident of course, but the thematic material is not quite as august as the B minor. There is undeniably a certain purity to the profile of the Larghetto and sufficient contrast to keep it alive but the most consistently inventive movement is the lively and eventful Minuetto and Scherzo Ėwith its unexpected and unusual form. The finale is bright and airy with a well-judged fugal section.

Sound quality is good; on balance slightly preferable to the first volume where there was a slight congestion in the inner voices. Spohrís chamber music deserves revaluation and despite my relative lack of enthusiasm for the later Quintet that shouldnít dissuade you from investigating this series.

Jonathan Woolf

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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