Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Symphony No.7 in C major The earthly and divine in human life for two orchestras Op.121 (1841) [32:10]
Symphony No.9 in B minor The Seasons Op.143 (1850) [30:12]
Introduzione in D major WoO5 (1830) [0:50]
Festmarsch in D major WoO3 (1825) [5:22]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Howard Shelley
rec. August 2011, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano
HYPERION CDA67939 [69:07]
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 to him.
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 two movements.
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 appropriate confidence.
The Hyperion recording quality is good but there’s just a touch of opaqueness in the lower strings.