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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
String Quartet No. 32 in C major Op. 141 (1849) [34.31]
String Quartet No. 34 in E flat major Op. 152 (1855) [31.35]
Moscow Philharmonic "Concertino" String Quartet
Recorded in Studio 1, Russian State TV and Radio Company Kultura, Moscow, December 2003
MARCO POLO 8.225307 [66.06]

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The vast Spohr chamber music series from Marco Polo is up to volume eleven. It takes in Quartets Nos. 32 and 34, which brings us up to his Op.152. The earlier work was written at the time of the 1848 Revolution, the latter quartet following five years later. As one would expect of this consummate master of the German Romantic tradition Ė himself a virtuoso violinist and primus inter pares of unexcelled brilliance Ė these works are written with a complete understanding of the medium and of tonal and expressive effect. They seldom reach the heights but the impression throughout is of consistent excellence and control.

Yes, that sounds rather like damning with faint praise. The first movement of No.32 is certainly genial and relaxed and its slow movement is long-lined, leisurely and has a reserved stateliness as well. This is reinforced by the Moscow Philharmonic "Concertino" String Quartet who donít make a big, opulent sound. Their resources are rather silvery and reserved as well which tends to adduce rather greater placidity to the music than perhaps it possesses. There were moments when the first violinís intonation wandered and in the third movement I wonder if the viola is playing up enough or whether the recording level is against him. The notes speak of deep melancholy in the Scherzo but Iím damned if I can find any; sounds like a rather jaunty affair to me, if somewhat repetitious. The finale has a strong first violin line, as one would expect of Spohr who could sometimes be held guilty of concertante writing for the first fiddle in his chamber works. But thereís still plenty of elastic and elegant writing, and a tell tale Mendelssohn Violin Concerto trill before the plump pomposo ending.

The later work starts with an adagio section before moving forward to an insistent allegro Ė strong on dance patterns and a greater sense of agitation. The slow movement is here rather faceless whilst the Minuet is brisk and well sprung with a gracious trio section. Spohr once again reserves his weight of concertante fireworks for the first violin in the finale, which one does feel could have been more boldly taken.

This is rather more for the Spohr completist than for the generalist, even the generalist wanting to explore Spohrís chamber music further. He was an uneven composer, as those who know his quintets will appreciate, and I donít think heís at his most convincing here in performances that donít do quite enough to assist

Jonathan Woolf


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