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Spohr: Nonet, Septet / Ensemble 360

Release Date: 06/12/2007 
Label:  Asv Gold Catalog #: 4026   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Louis Spohr
Performer:  Martin SavingBenjamin HudsonMatthew HuntGuy Eshed,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble 360
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Listening to Spohr’s chamber music is a real pleasure and it hasn’t palled through repetition, comparisons, or through getting to know, on these issues, six substantial pieces that are well crafted, tuneful, tender, and ebullient.


SPOHR Nonet in F. Septet in a Ens 360 ASV 4026 (65:21)

These days the German composer Louis Spohr (1784–1859) tends to be a footnote in Read more musical history; yet, during his lifetime, he was very highly regarded. Spohr: a composer of worthy if uninspired music. Such an opinion (one I might also give) seems to be the consensus nowadays. Well, this superb ASV release disproves that notion. Although both pieces have been recorded previously, I knew neither of these works until this release arrived: I am delighted to have encountered both, especially the Nonet, and then equally delighted to explore other recordings of these works while making other Spohr discoveries.

The Nonet (scored for string trio, double bass, and wind quintet) is wholly enchanting: witty, elegant, and expressive: every bit as good, I suggest, as Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet. The first movement sparkles effervescently; the Scherzo is more akin to a minuet and dances curvaceously; then, an Adagio offers some slightly melancholic thoughts but colorful instrumental contrasts, some momentary reflection until the finale restores the happy-go-lucky factor with a brilliantly nimble close. Spohr’s writing is joyously affirmative, and one senses a twinkle in his eyes as he jots down some beguiling ideas and fleshes them out with an instrumental contribution that shows a wide and diverting palette.

The Septet (violin, cello, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and piano) is no less masterly in resourcefulness, if a little less distinguished in inspiration. Yet each movement is charming, if a little repetitive, and nothing if not entertaining and pleasing.

Pleasurable the music certainly is; that’s the first pleasure. The Gaudier Ensemble’s account of the Nonet (on Hyperion 66699) is a more leisurely affair if just as affectionate. Yet, the second pleasure of ASV’s issue is the superb playing of Ensemble 360 (an international group of young and hugely talented musicians), which has a little more fizz than the Gaudier; each of Ensemble 360’s members brings virtuosity and sensitivity while revealing real delectation in sharing this music with their friends (which I think could include us, the listeners). Things come in threes. So the third pleasure is Tony Faulkner’s engineering for ASV, which is a model of clarity, tangibility, and truthfulness: the listener is offered a seat with the musicians and a warm invitation to enjoy some thoroughly likeable music. Hyperion’s sound places the Gaudier players in a more ambient acoustic and the musicians a little further back; it is perfectly fine—and also engineered by Faulkner! On balance, somewhat literally, I prefer the ASV reproduction and the energy of Ensemble 360, but I must stress the excellence of the Hyperion, a release I shall return to. The coupling there is Spohr’s Octet (violin, two violas, cello, double bass, clarinet, and two horns), a mellow and expansive work, with a delightfully lively finale, that is perhaps more interesting than ASV’s choice of the Septet. Already we have reached the swings and roundabouts stage.

As for an alternative version of the Septet, though, there is one on MDG (304 1263), a two-CD package consisting of four Spohr chamber works performed by Ensemble Villa Musica, which only duplicates the Septet. The other works on MDG’s menu are the Quintet for piano and winds, the Sextet for strings, and the Quintet for piano and strings. Comparisons between the Septet from Ensemble 360 and Ensemble Villa Musica lead to a slight preference for the latter group, which invests a little more light and shade and expression into the music, but the sound balance doesn’t quite have the equilibrium of the ASV issue.

However, one thing has emerged with definition: that listening to Spohr’s chamber music is a real pleasure and it hasn’t palled through repetition, comparisons, or through getting to know, on these issues, six substantial pieces that are well crafted, tuneful, tender, and ebullient. By chance, Hyperion has issued Spohr’s first two symphonies (on 67616), which I am much looking forward to hearing. Meanwhile, this ASV disc is heartily recommended, first love and all that, and provides further joy for the collector and what it may lead to in terms of discovering Louis Spohr.

FANFARE: Colin Anderson
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Works on This Recording

Nonet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Strings in F major, Op. 31 by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Martin Saving (Viola), Benjamin Hudson (Bassoon), Matthew Hunt (Clarinet),
Guy Eshed (Flute), Marie Bitlloch (Cello), Adrian Wilson (Oboe),
Sarah Bitloch (Violin), Laurène Durantel (Double Bass), Naomi Atherton (French Horn)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble 360
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Germany 
Length: 31 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Septet for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, Violin, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 147: 1st movement by Louis Spohr
Performer:  Marie Bitlloch (Cello), Matthew Hunt (Clarinet), Tim Horton (Piano),
Naomi Atherton (French Horn), Benjamin Hudson (Bassoon), Sarah Bitloch (Violin),
Guy Eshed (Flute)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Kassel, Germany 
Length: 10 Minutes 19 Secs. 

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