SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
LOUIS SPOHR: Symphonies Vol. 1 = No. 3 in E minor; No. 10 in E flat major; Overture in F major – NDR Radio Philharmonie/ Howard Griffiths – CPO
Published on December 22, 2007
This release marks the beginning of a new series of SACDs from CPO covering the symphonies and concert overtures of Spohr, who lived until 1859. There will be several world premiere recordings in the series, and one of them is the Symphony No. 10 on this disc. Spohr was the second best-known composer after Beethoven in the first half of the 19th century, though he is seldom heard today – especially in North America. After Beethoven’s death the mantle of the greatest composer fell to Spohr as far as many in Europe were concerned.
Although Beethoven was greatly venerated and many composers tried to emulate his approach in their works, Spohr adopted a clearly individual, alternate approach. He had found faults with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony among various passages which many critics had singled out as the most innovative. He thought, for example, that the loud chords opening the Fifth did not have the proper dignity for such a symphony. It might be said that most of Spohr’s symphonies have great dignity – never trying to jar or shock the listener. He set himself extremely high standards in his compositional approach.
Spohr began his career as a virtuoso violinist and was even compared to Paganini. His writing for the strings is fitting and full of lovely melodies. At several points I was reminded of Schubert symphonies. One critic accused Spohr of “excessive harmonic clarity.” The Scherzo of the four-movement symphony is tuneful but lacks the sprightliness of, say, Mendelssohn or even Schubert.
The Symphony No. 10 was Spohr’s last, and is also his shortest. He knew he wouldn’t be able to compose another before his death, but felt this one was not appropriate for closing out his series of symphonies and asked that it be hidden and not performed after his death. In the work he returned to the classicism of his youth, with very strict structure of the four movements and tonal relationships. Thematic material is reduced to a minimum, and he used for the first time in his symphonies the tuba, valved trumpets and valved horns. The seven-minute concert overture closing the program has a more emotional character than heard in the symphonies. The melodies are again lovely but with a melancholy feeling.
CPO’s sonics are excellent as usual, with a rich impression of the orchestra across the soundstage and the ambiance of the hall toward the rear. This first volume in the Spohr series should kindle interest in the upcoming volumes, which probably will continue the practice of presenting an earlier symphony paired with a later one.
- John Sunier