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Louis SPOHR (1784–1859)
Symphony No. 4 in F, Op.86 Die Weihe der Töne [38:58]
Faust – Overture, Op.60 [6:43]
Jessonda – Overture, Op.63 [7:42]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Alfred Walter
rec. Budapest, 25-28 November 1987
NAXOS 8.555398 [53:22]

The conductor Alfred Walter (1929-2005) was busy with Marco Polo/Naxos from the 1980s onwards. He contributed more than twenty volumes of the Johan Strauss II edition as well as CDs of orchestral music by Furtwängler, Schillings, Reinecke, Einem and de Bériot. His pioneering work in bringing out the symphonies of Louis Spohr extended to all but the Tenth Symphony. For the most part his partner in this enterprise was the Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra but in the present case he worked with Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His other Spohr discs can now be heard on Naxos: 1 and 5 on 8.555500 (Marco Polo 8.223363), 3 and 6 on 8.555533 (Marco Polo 8.223439); 2 and 9 on 8.555540 and 7 and 8 on Marco Polo 8.223432. Spohr's Second was also recorded by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra with Choo Hoey and coupled with a symphony by Lachner (Marco Polo 8.220360). The present recordings were originally released on Marco Polo 8.223122.

Spohr crammed so much into his allotted span of 75 years: soloist, court conductor and composer of eleven operas, ten symphonies and numerous concertos, never mind 36 string quartets and works for piano quintet, double quartet, octet and nonet. His death consigned most of his music to the scrap-heap. One of his fifteen violin concertos — No. 8 Gesangsszene – clung on through the affection and loyalty of virtuoso violinists: Heifetz, Kulenkampf, Spalding, Borries and Bortolotto. You can hear all fifteen of them on CPO where Ulf Hoelscher is the violinist.

His Fourth Symphony - dubbed 'The Consecration of Sound' - is in four movements. The Largo–Allegro is in the grip of decorative bird-song and a stormy Schumann-like manner. The Andantino–Allegro speaks of a sensitive gentle soul. It's a lissom marriage between the calmer aspects of Schumann and Brahms. After this comes a Tempo di Marcia–Andante maestoso, subtitled Ambrosianischer Lobgesang. This is characterised by ripely strident trumpet fanfares and hunting calls resolving into a march with much sturdy swagger and sparky brilliance. The final Larghetto–Allegretto traces a slow and peaceful curve into contentment.

As if to make amends we then have two overtures. The one for Faust bustles with Weberian life yet finds time for quite a bit of relaxation. In fairness, the music seems emotionally circumscribed and rather short-changes Faust's torment. Spohr's Jessonda opera has been recorded by Orfeo with Gerd Albrecht conducting the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra. The cast includes Dietrich Fischer-DieskauJúlia Várady, Renate Behle and Kurt Moll. His Jessonda overture has a tauter emotional charge that the Faust work and the effect admirably resembles that of Beethoven's Coriolan.

Keith Anderson, a Naxos stalwart from the label's earliest years, provides the brief yet helpful liner-notes.

There are more modern complete - or almost complete - cycles of Spohr symphonies from CPO and Hyperion but nothing exactly follows this coupling.

The performances here are at least respectable, especially in the Symphony. The recording quality is good if hardly brilliant but sufficient for these works to glow and please if not dazzle.

Rob Barnett



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