Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 2 in d; No. 8 in G. Concert Overture,
“Im ernsten Stil”
Howard Griffiths, cond; North German RPO
cpo 777 178 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 68:46)
What in the world happened to Louis Spohr (1784–1859)? Once considered the obvious inheritor to Beethoven, his star faded fast once the 20th century made its dramatic entrance. All that seems left is a handful of chamber works and his Violin Concerto No. 8, a tuneful thing that is certainly worthwhile, but there is so
much more! He composed nine symphonies (or 10, depending on how you count them, the last showing up only a few years back), and if you can divorce the modern age from his, and cleanse your ears of all that has happened since (I know, impossible), you can discern a really remarkable creative voice.
But, of course, we are generally too saturated with the aural encumbrances of centuries to not be reminded of Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Haydn when we hear snippets of his music. This is a shame, for when he was active, the music of those three geniuses was hardly resident in the ears of listeners as household sounds, and what we ascertain as their own unique stylistic traits were not so obvious. Spohr is a conservative composer, no question about that. But other composers were also, and have fared better than he has. The problem, I think, lies in the accelerated advancement of music during the Romantic age, with its plethora of styles and forms coming into being almost simultaneously; after all,
was already in circulation nearly 30 years at Spohr’s death! The age was hungry for the new and rebellious, and Spohr was not the one to provide that. As a result, he got lost.
One might argue that Mendelssohn was conservative also. Well, I never said that Spohr was a Mendelssohn, but I also think that while the latter’s formal work may have fit the tried and true, spiritually he was very much of his age. And so was Spohr, but his Classical structures kept his muse locked into a certain type of unadventurous cage, especially when orchestras were expanding in instrumentation, and piano keyboards were being ravished by hands the size of Liszt’s. Spohr’s music does not belong among the ranks of the truly great, but it is close, and other lesser lights seem to have survived in a way he did not.
His Second Symphony is his first really good one, and it took him until the age of 36 to write it. Friend Ferdinand Ries was in London and invited him there for a concert with the London Philharmonic that was too hard to resist. After all, though it had been 25 years since Haydn’s London triumph (which left him a wealthy man), the memory was still a fresh one among musicians, each hopeful of striking down the same cash cow that Papa had slain. The Symphony was a roaring success, and Spohr could rightly claim in a letter that no one had earned as much financially as he had since the Haydn days.
The Symphony No. 2 is a wonderfully inventive and melodious work with a nice catchy theme in the last movement to send the patrons out humming. No. 8 in G is actually far more dramatic than the D-Minor work, and more Haydnesque in its shimmering shifting of moods and contrasts. It also was composed for London, and though considered worthy of performance was not as enticing to the critical world, ultimately short on “newness and thought” when compared to his Second, Third, and Forth Symphonies. This is harsh, and Spohr was also caught in the critical crossfire of the musical party polemics at war in those days. While the Eighth is somewhat of a throwback to his First Symphony, I find it the more enjoyable of these two under consideration.
The Concert Overture is a fine piece, but rather unsubstantial compared to the symphonies. Michael Carter in
31:4 reviewed the first edition of this series (Symphonies 3 and 10) along with a Hyperion release of Symphonies 1 and 2. It is unclear if Hyperion will make a go of it, and Carter thought the forces on both records about equal. I like Howard Griffiths very much and have enjoyed his work elsewhere, and he is right on target in these pieces. Even though the orchestra has a few minor problems in some of the trickier passages, they sport great tonal qualities, especially the winds, so I think that the Griffiths series is the one to get. Besides, they are recorded in DSD surround sound, which for me seals the deal.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in D minor, Op. 49 by Louis Spohr
North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1820; Germany
Length: 27 Minutes 42 Secs.
Symphony no 8 in G major, Op. 137 by Louis Spohr
North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1847; Kassel, Germany
Length: 31 Minutes 16 Secs.
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