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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Symphony No. 2 in D minor, Op. 49 (1820) [27:42]
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 137 (1847) [31:16]
Concert Overture: Im ernsten Stil, Op. 126 (1842) [9:44]
North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Howard Griffiths
rec. February 2006 (No. 2), August 2007 (No. 8), November 2007 (Overture), Großer Sendesaal des NDR Landesfunkhauses
CPO 7771782 [68:46] 
Experience Classicsonline

Spohr gained his first important experience in his twenties, as a chamber musician at the
Brunswick court. He soon became a virtuoso violinist, touring throughout the German lands. In due course he took to conducting, and was among the first to use a baton. He had periods as an opera conductor at Vienna (1813-15) and then Frankfurt (1817-19), and these years coincided with his developing activity as a composer. For example, his operas Faust and Zemire und Azor date from 1813 and 1819 respectively. He settled as kapellmeister at Kassel for a period of more than twenty years from 1822, and this more stable life allowed him to exercise a more concentrated response to the challenge of composing. 

Spohr’s music gained him an international reputation during his lifetime, but after his death his position in the repertory gradually waned. His early romantic origins and his admiration for Mozart largely determined his style, with its emphasis on careful craftsmanship and adherence to classical principles. However, Spohr’s expressive powers were strong and his music can always convey an emotion sincerely felt. Among his instrumental works there are ten symphonies, operas, virtuoso piano pieces, a great deal of chamber music and many concertos - including fifteen for his own instrument, the violin. 

These two symphonies reveal Spohr as a thoroughly accomplished composer. The music always moves along with a sure sense of direction, and if there is a criticism to be made it is that the ideas themselves do not necessarily have a compelling personality. 

The Symphony No. 2 opens with an impressive sweep, and a sure orchestral touch in presenting the material. Howard Griffiths shapes the themes with a sure understanding of the early romantic idiom, whether it be in the sweeping Allegro of the first movement or the sensitive Adagio of the second. The North German Radio Orchestra makes a good impression too, creating a most pleasing ensemble sound. 

The Symphony No. 8 is the stronger work from the structural point of view, though the material itself is equally pleasing in either symphony. Now there is a compelling slow introduction to release the first movement’s vibrant Allegro, making subtle links also with the Adagio slow movement that follows. The Scherzo has a deft touch, here delightfully phrased. The work was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society of London, thus reflecting the international stature that Spohr achieved during his lifetime. 

Written at Kassel in 1842, and first performed at Leipzig the following year - during the era of Schumann and Mendelssohn - the Concert Overture in the Serious Style alludes to the historic dichotomy between the chamber and church styles. As such it might be regarded as an early example of neo-classicism (or neo-baroque-ism); but in truth the style remains that of the early romantic era, readily comparable with that on display in the two symphonies. There is nothing wrong with that, particularly when the performance is so pleasing. Whether the music adds up to more than the sum of its parts is another matter. In his useful insert note Bert Hagels comments that ‘the work never had a genuine chance to establish itself in the concert world’. This recording will at least further the opportunities for a reappraisal of this composer who is written about more often than he is actually heard. 

Terry Barfoot


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