This is the fifth volume in this series devoted to Spohr’s
symphonic and orchestral works. As before it’s Howard Shelley
and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana that do the honours.
There are two major symphonies to consider and two much - in
one case very, very much - smaller works that are receiving
their first-ever recordings.
The Seventh Symphony dates from 1841 and is saddled with one
of those portentous subtitles beloved of the Teuton, namely
The earthly and divine in human life. Rather more interestingly
it’s written for two orchestras, one small and the other of
the usual mid-nineteenth century size. Thus eleven instruments
represent the ‘divine’ and the full orchestra represents the
human. These answering paragraphs are redolent of the vogue
for double quartets, something Spohr’s wife in fact suggested
There are numerous felicities in the symphony, a light and warmly
burnished work, not least the delightful bassoon and clarinet
‘duet’ in the second movement, and the concertante style role
for the first violin – played elegantly but with quite a slim
tone. There’s also a deal of contrast between the heavenly liquidity
of the wind writing and the more powerful, sonorous, tangy humanity
of the strings, in particular, and the brass as well. There
are some moments in the finale – the final victory of the divine
in Spohr’s schema, a rather nobly realised affair – that sound
almost proto-Grieg, although the prevailing ethos, I suppose,
must be accounted Schumannesque.
The Ninth Symphony of 1850 is subtitled The Seasons
and is divided into two parts. The work opens in Winter,
and then ends in Autumn, an unusual approach that actually
works quite well. The transition sections between seasons are
separately tracked. The string writing is alternately spruce
and weightily imposing, whilst the winds chirrup when appropriate.
There’s a raptly Beethovenian Summer movement, which
is, in effect, a Largo of some intensity and warmth,
with a stormy percussion interlude. Transitions are fleet and
well timed, the whole symphony genial and listenable.
There have been other recordings of both these works. Anton
Rickenbacher’s Bavarian Radio Orchestra recording of the Ninth
on Orfeo [C094841A, coupled with No.6] was more compactly structured
and also perhaps a touch more exuberant than Shelley’s. Alfred
Walter recorded a lot of Spohr for Marco Polo, coupling Seven
with Eight. In contradistinction to Rickenbacher, Walter is
a lot more meditative and lateral than Shelley in No.7, except
in the finale, so if you prefer a more extended journey he’s
the one to go for (8.223432 – with the Slovak State Philharmonic).
I’m very happy with Shelley’s more incisive tempi for the first
The two premiere recordings are the brief and exuberant Introduzione
in D major and the rousingly confident Festmarsch in
D major, full of brio and panache. And both are played with
The Hyperion recording quality is good but there’s just a touch
of opaqueness in the lower strings.