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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Double String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 65 (1823) [24:00]
Double String Quartet No. 2 in E flat, Op. 77 (1827) [27:22]
Forde Ensemble
rec. 15-16 January 2008, St Mark’s Church, Purley, Surrey, UK. DDD.
NAXOS 8.570963 [51:22]
Experience Classicsonline


This recording of Volume 1 of Spohr’s Double Quartets has been available for some time as a download from Naxos’s sister company, classicsonline.com, in which form it was reviewed some months ago by Brian Reinhart - see review.

Spohr is in grave danger of having the 250th anniversary of his death overshadowed by commemorations of centenaries and half-centenaries of Purcell, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Martinů. He may not be such a major figure as any of them, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to go unnoticed. His Clarinet Concertos and his Octet and Nonet figure reasonably largely in the recorded repertoire, but the rest of his chamber music is hardly well known. Naxos’s other sister company, Marco Polo, have been doing their best by him for some time, with a multi-volume set of his String Quartets; I reviewed Volume 12 of that series almost two years ago (8.225316 - see review). Naxos have also reissued a recommendable series of ex-Marco Polo recordings of Spohr’s Quintets and Sextet. Now I’m pleased to see that the Forde Ensemble will be doing the same for his Double Quartets. There’s just one more volume to come.

I must admit at the outset that these Double Quartets are not as immediately enticing and enjoyable as the Nonet and Octet; if you have yet to embark on collecting his chamber music, that’s where you should probably start. The ASV Gold recording of the Nonet is available at bargain price (GLD4026, with the Septet - see review by Glyn Pursglove) and the classic 1958 Vienna Octet performance of the Octet may be had from Testament (SBT1261, also with the Septet) or as a download in good 320kb/s mp3 sound from passionato.com (Decca 466 5802 , with Schubert’s even more wonderful Octet - see review by Harry Downey).

The Nash Ensemble combines the Octet and Nonet on a mid-price CRD recording which I recommended in its download form (CRD3354). As well as being available from theclassicalshop.net which I mentioned in the October, 2008, Download Roundup, that CRD recording can be had for the price of just 8 tracks from emusic.com. The Gaudier Ensemble also combine these two works on Hyperion CDA66699, described by Colin Clarke as ‘a perfect next port of call’ after the Piano Quintet - see review. Please note that there is one digit too many in the catalogue number which CC gives.

Of the two works on the present recording, only the Double Quartet No.2 begins to approach the charm of the Octet and Nonet. Its predecessor largely passed me by, despite - or perhaps because of - its nods in the direction of Haydn and Mozart. I’m sure that the eminent players who from time to time come together as the Forde Ensemble do their best by it. The second, as Naxos’s own notes admit, integrates the players into a more evenly balanced whole. Spohr was finding his way here; Beethoven’s largest-scale chamber music, the Septet and Serenade, and Schubert’s delightful Octet were of a completely different kind, combining strings and wind. Mendelssohn’s Octet was composed for the equivalent of two string quartets, but he integrated them, whereas Spohr retains the individuality of the two participating quartets. As he put it, Mendelssohn’s players ‘do not concert and interchange in double choir with each other’, as his did.

The quality of the performers available to Spohr when he wrote the first Double Quartet was limited but he felt able to write more adventurously for its successor. Whatever challenges there are in this work are ably dealt with by the Forde Ensemble. Like Brian Reinhart, I’m looking forward to hearing the second and concluding volume. Also like BR, I haven’t yet heard the rival performances on Hyperion, though I hope to remedy this by including it and the Gaudier Ensemble’s Octet and Nonet in a future Download Roundup. The price differential between what will be two Naxos CDs and the Hyperion is not quite as great as BR implies, since the latter is offered as a Dyad two-for-one set (CDD22014).

I haven’t repeated many of the things which BR says in his analysis of the music and his account of its genesis, since I agree with almost everything that he writes. Like him, I find this first volume attractive and, with excellent playing and very good recording, well worth its modest price. Like him, though, I also believe that you may prefer to wait for Volume 2. Better still, if you don’t yet know Spohr’s Octet and Nonet, do avail yourself of recording(s) of those wonderful works.

Brian Wilson

see also review by Brian Reinhart

 


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