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Spohr: String Quartets Complete, Vol 12 / Dima Quartet

Release Date: 10/30/2007 
Label:  Marco Polo   Catalog #: 8225316   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Louis Spohr
Performer:  Sergei GirshenkoGeorgy KapitonovAlexey GulianitskyDmitry Yablonsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dima Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SPOHR String Quartets: No. 33 in G; No. 35 in E?. Potpourri No. 1 in G Dima Qrt, Moscow Marco Polo 8.225316 (69:41)

Louis (Ludwig) Spohr’s career as a composer of string quartets spans the entire lifetimes of Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Schumann. The works on this disc include one of Spohr’s first quartets, the Potpourri of 1804, and two of his last, dating from 1851 and 1856. All told, there are 36 numbered quartets, two Read more Potpourri s, and two sets of variations. Marco Polo’s admirable, if not heroic, project of recording them all continues here with Volume 12, two years after the issue of the previous two volumes, and about 18 years since the beginning of the project. The first nine CDs featured the superb New Budapest Quartet; Volumes 10 and 11, which I reviewed in Fanfare 29:3, appeared after a 10-year hiatus with a new group, the Moscow Concertino Quartet. I found their performances sub-par, and Marco Polo’s Klaus Heymann must have heard things the same way, as this latest volume uses yet a third quartet. The Dima Quartet may not be in the same class as the New Budapest, but it is far more polished than the disappointing Concertino; that is, if the New Budapest is the James Bond equivalent of Sean Connery, the Moscow Concertino is in the position of George Lazenby, and the Dima Quartet, while no Connery, is at least a Roger Moore.

The Potpourri on Themes from Gaveaux’s “Le petit matelot” was written in 1804, when Spohr was 20 years old. It serves as a reminder that Spohr was a virtuoso violinist; some references even list it as a Quatuor brillante , a genre that is essentially the equivalent of a violin concerto with string trio accompaniment. This youthful work, rather free in form, is dominated by a set of variations of Gaveaux’s theme. Violinist Serge Girshenko does an admirable job with the flashy solo part.

The two numbered quartets on this disc are among Spohr’s last compositions. No. 33, written in the wake of the 1848 Revolution, has its dark side, but its first movement is easygoing enough. One striking characteristic, though, typical of Spohr’s penchant for chromatic harmonic relationships, is the prominence of A?, the flatted second scale degree or Neapolitan, which usually connotes darker moods. The second movement, in the conventional “funeral-march” key of C Minor, does convey some of the formality of that genre. Interestingly, its middle section is in A?, the same key that featured so prominently in the first movement. The remaining movements are a rather subdued Scherzo and a Finale in G Minor rather than Major. Annotator Keith Warsop, chairman of the Spohr Society of Great Britain, hears elements of lament and resignation in this work; while the surface of the music is not terribly depressing, the prominence of the Neapolitan and the constant use of minor-mode coloring do make this one of Spohr’s more dark-hued quartets.

No. 35 in E?, by contrast, is a shorter work designed to emulate Classical models. One interesting characteristic is that the early versions of the Quartet were in G Minor, and the vestiges of that tonal center make for some unusual tonal structures in the finished work. In poor health and depressed, Spohr banned performances of his last two quartets; the present recording is, according to Warsop, its first performance in 150 years.

The Dima Quartet handles this unfamiliar music nicely; the first violin sounds as if it perhaps was recorded a bit too brightly. The booklet features the standard background essay by Clive Brown and the analytical essay by Warsop. By my calculation, 10 of the numbered quartets remain; let’s hope Marco Polo gives them to us soon. Meanwhile, this latest installment is a must-buy for anyone interested in the music of Spohr.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 33 in G major, Op. 146 by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Sergei Girshenko (Violin), Georgy Kapitonov (Viola), Alexey Gulianitsky (Violin),
Dmitry Yablonsky (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dima Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2006 
Venue:  Studio 1, State Radio House, Moscow, Rus 
Length: 32 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 35 in E flat major, Op. 155 by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Dmitry Yablonsky (Cello), Georgy Kapitonov (Viola), Alexey Gulianitsky (Violin),
Sergei Girshenko (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dima Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Kassel, Germany 
Date of Recording: 2006 
Venue:  Studio 1, State Radio House, Moscow, Rus 
Length: 21 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Potpourri for Violin no 1 in G major on themes by Gaveaux's "Le petit matelot", Op. 5 by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Alexey Gulianitsky (Violin), Georgy Kapitonov (Viola), Dmitry Yablonsky (Cello),
Sergei Girshenko (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dima Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2006 
Venue:  Studio 1, State Radio House, Moscow, Rus 
Length: 15 Minutes 9 Secs. 

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