Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Overture: Der Zweikampf mit der Geliebten WoO50 (1810) [6:13]
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 137 (1847) [35:08]
Symphony No. 10 in E flat major, WoO8 (1857) [26:26]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Howard Shelley
rec. 12-16 April 2010, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
HYPERION CDA67802 [68:10]
Spohr was 75 when he died. He had lived a full and active life as composer, soloist and court conductor especially at Kassel. There are eleven operas, a phenomenal 36 string quartets of which we find 14 volumes worth on Marco Polo and 15 violin concertos and other works for violin and orchestra all on CPO (Ulf Hoelscher). The Clarinet Concertos are on Hyperion with Michael Collins and with Karl Leister on Orfeo. A quiver of works for larger chamber ensemble of which an Eloquence 2 CD set from the Vienna Octet conveniently and economically offers the Piano Quintet, Double Quartet, Octet and Nonet. His oratorio The Last judgement is on Capriccio as also is his opera Faust of which there is a further version on CPO. The opera Jessonda is on Orfeo. His links with and sympathy and support for Schumann makes it no surprise that works by Spohr are included in Schumann’s Sammlung von Musik-Stucken alter und neuer Zeit on CPO 777 595-2. One of Spohr’s claims to fame is that he orchestrated Beethoven’s lied Adelaide.
Utterly committed performances of Louis Spohr’s symphonies continue to flow from Hyperion. In fact this is the fourth volume with, presumably, only one more to come – symphonies 7 and 9. Until this series was launched Spohr, unlike Raff, had few champions. There has been a Spohr Society in the UK and, I believe, in Germany but the profile has been low. That said, Keith Warsop of the UK Spohr Society provides the matchless liner-notes – exemplary and essential reading. Yes, the violin concertos and clarinet concertos found friends at court who have recorded some of them but the symphonies remain largely unexplored at least on a systematic basis. There are two volumes of symphonies on CPO and three on Marco Polo - none a complete cycle.
The early overture Der Zweikampf is as lively as the more exuberant closing episodes in Weber’s overtures Oberon and Euryanthe and adopts a similar style. The meaty four movement Eighth Symphony often leans on the romantic manner and accent of Robert Schumann with sweeping writing for the strings. I have in mind here the Schumann of the Second and Third symphonies. Chuckling woodwind register satisfyingly throughout: try the playfully chattering scherzo (III) which makes sport with the fate motif from Beethoven’s Fifth but also freshens the atmosphere with a notable role for the first violin. There’s a very touching and gracefully balletic second movement with slowly swirling strings. The character and tone of the windplayers are strengths of the Hyperion cycle. The finale is relaxed in the nonchalant sauntering manner of the Beethoven Pastoral. Spohr composed nine published symphonies between 1811 and 1850. The tenth was composed in 1857 but had to wait until 1998 for its first public performance. It remained in manuscript until it was published in 2006. The relaxed Pastoral manner f the finale of No. 8 carries over with a shiver of excitement into the Tenth Symphony. It’s altogether a most charming and utterly civilised symphony. It stands clear of any involvement in anything uncouth or tragic but lacks symphonic gravitas.
If you enjoy the even numbered symphonies of Beethoven and the symphonies of Ries (whose symphonies Spohr performed at Kassel), Gade or Méhul then I am sure you will like Spohr.
Spohr - urbane and civilised.