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]
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.
First class recording and thoroughly sympathetic performances.