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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op.125 (1843) [26:34]
Rondoletto in G major, Op.149 (1848) [4:08]
George ONSLOW (1784-1853)
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.2 (1807) [30:06]
Six Pièces (c.1848) [13:21]
Toccata in C major, Op.6 (1811) [4:05]
Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. November 2011, St, Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA67947 [78:16]

Experience Classicsonline

This canny coupling presents two piano sonatas by contemporaries Louis Spohr and Georg (or Georges) Onslow but from very different parts of their compositional lives. Spohr’s Sonata in A flat major was written in 1843 whilst Onlow’s Sonata in C minor was written back in 1807. Inevitably they represent wholly different aesthetic and stylistic positions.
Spohr, a virtuoso violinist, harboured a rather disdainful view of the piano until he heard the English Broadwood piano, at which point he ditched his prejudices and wrote the sonata recorded here, which he dedicated to Mendelssohn. In four equable movements it opens with a warmly flowing cantabile, showing no signs at all of any infelicity when it comes to writing for the instrument with which he had been relatively unfamiliar. There’s a certain amount of Weber, maybe even mid-period Beethoven, and a good deal of charm. In his notes Richard Wigmore characterises the Romanze as ‘bel canto’ and that’s a fair description, given its persuasive, vocalised quality; but there’s contrast and incident, too, and in the Scherzo Spohr makes play with key changes to keep one on one’s aural toes. The finale, meanwhile, is delightfully restless with fulsome ländler rhythms. Spohr’s only other piano work is the Rondoletto of 1848, a pleasant enough affair requested of him by the wife of composer and virtuoso pianist Ignaz Moscheles.
Onslow’s 1807 Sonata shows the influence of Haydn, not unreasonably so given that he was 23 when he wrote it, whereas Spohr, showing Weber’s hand in places, was 59 when he wrote his sonata. It’s a deftly constructed work, cleverly canonic writing being a highlight of the Menuetto, which reveals a high level of technical sophistication and polish. Maybe after the March theme in the slow movement one or two of the subsequent variations are more dutiful than inspired, but the Pastorale finale, with its long and flowing lines, sweeps all away with decorative lightness and panache. Onslow’s delightful Six Pièces were written at around the same time as Spohr’s Rondoletto, and they’re a kind of Song without Words, of which by far the longest is the last. Howard Shelley responds with some of his freshest playing in these miniatures and he digs into the bigger technical demands of the Toccata in C major of 1811 with real vigour. This sounds so much like Schumann’s Toccata, written over twenty years in the future, it’s uncanny. Surely he must have known it, and buried it away in his musical subconscious. Whatever the cause and effect, Onslow’s work is a fine one in its own right.
With a first class recording and thoroughly sympathetic performances this Spohr-Onslow disc has much to commend it.
Jonathan Woolf

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