Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
The Last Judgement - oratorio (1826)
Miriam Meyer (soprano); Ursula Eittinger (mezzo); Marcus Ullmann (tenor); Josef Wagner (bass)
Kantorei Maulbronn/Russian Chamber Philharmonic St Petersburg/Jürgen Budday
rec. live, 12-13 June 2010, Maulbronn Monastery
Text in German; no translation

Spohr’s oratorio, The Last Judgement, was something of a nineteenth century staple, and was popular with amateur choral societies. Its eclipse however was drastic and though there have been recordings I think it’s telling that a number have come from live events, as does this latest one.

This was Spohr’s second oratorio and was written in Kassel between 1825 and 1826. The libretto, in two parts, was by Johann Friedrich Rochlitz (1769-1842) and concerns both the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement. The overture is a powerful utterance, finely put together, and orchestrated adeptly. The choral entries are often arresting, and the accompanied recitatives show awareness of oratorio antecedents but are sufficiently flexible to convince on their own terms. At its best the work impresses through a felicitous sense of word-setting and layering; the choral responses are indeed sensitively shaped. The fourth movement, with a tenor solo and chorus, calls for a repeated ‘Heilig’ and the chorus’s soft, reverential repetition vests the music with great reflectiveness and elegiac quality. Then too Spohr doesn’t stint the opportunities for some good old-fashioned fugal development. Its employment halts the narrative somewhat but is certainly incisive; that in the seventh section is very definitely reminiscent of Handel.

Spohr shows in the Sinfonia introduction to the second part just how well he wrote for orchestral forces and in the Babylonian chorus (No.15) demonstrates a sure instinct for the dramatic crest of a movement. In the concluding fugal Hallelujah section he reprises the kind of Handelian statements he’d earlier established in the first part of the oratorio. There are some Mozartian touches here and there, more stentorian Beethovenian ones too, in addition to the sometimes pervasive Handelian aspect.

The solo singers are youthful, with light voices. Marcus Ullmann has a high, lightish tenor capable of some yielding inflection. Soprano Miriam Meyer also phrases well, but occasionally her tone gets a touch thin. Ursula Eittinger is the mezzo. Josef Wagner, the bass, sings well. The work has been recorded at quite a low level, so you’ll need to turn up the volume a notch. The performances are all capable. A bigger sing and performance, also live, comes from the Stuttgart Radio Symphony directed by Gustav Kuhn on Philips back in 1984 (416627).

Jonathan Woolf

A powerful utterance, finely put together and orchestrated adeptly. Choral entries are often arresting and sufficiently flexible to convince on their own terms. At its best the work impresses.