Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Die Letzten Dinge (The Last Judgement) (1826) [74:26]
Sally Matthews (soprano); Katharine Goeldner (mezzo); Jeremy Ovendon (tenor); Andrew Foster-Williams (bass)
Salzburger Bachchor
Mozarteumorchester Salzburg/Ivor Bolton
rec. live, 6 June 2013, Salzburger Mozarteum Grosser Saal
German text included
Spohr's The Last Judgement was first performed in German in 1826 in Kassel and in English at the Norwich Musical Festival in 1830. The translation of Friedrich Rochlitz's original German text was by Edward Taylor, who sang the bass solos in Norwich. It was published by Novello and became a mainstay of English choral societies right into the early twentieth century. Anyone who frequents secondhand bookshops which stock sheet music will discover well used copies of it in piles as high as "Messiah" or "Elijah". They will be much less likely to encounter a live performance of the work, despite the confident assertion in the booklet with this disc that "it has now returned to churches and concert halls during the past decades". Indeed it is just because that statement is incorrect that this disc is an especially valuable chance to get to know what our grandparents - or at least great-grandparents - regarded so highly.

The text is drawn from the Bible and falls into two parts. The first relates the power of God as an all-powerful ruler and judge, and the second the last judgement itself, leading to a new heaven and a new earth. Each part is preceded by a substantial instrumental introduction full of the dotted rhythms redolent of a French Overture. That is especially the case in this performance where the neo-baroque signature of the music is matched by a playing style clearly derived from that currently the norm in genuine baroque music. It is interesting to speculate as to how these movements might have sounded in performances in the middle of the last century but for me at least what we have here works very well. I do not know what instruments they play, but the pungent sound of the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg is very akin to that of period instrument orchestras. Right from the start the open orchestral textures draw the listener in, and even where the music is less than inspired ensure continued attention.

The soloists and chorus form a well chosen if not outstanding team and there are no obvious disadvantages to this being a live recording. I find it difficult to imagine a more sympathetic performance but for all the patent sincerity, variety and craftsmanship I must admit to some disappointment with the work itself. There is a curious lack of material that is melodically and textually memorable and I remain puzzled as to its one-time popularity. Others may feel differently and for anyone with an interest in choral music this disc provides an admirable opportunity to get to know it.

John Sheppard

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