Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 7; No. 9.
Howard Shelley, cond; O della Svizzera Italiana
HYPERION CDA 67939 (69:07)
This CD completes Howard Shelley’s cycle of Louis Spohr’s symphonies on Hyperion. While CPO’s ongoing cycle under Howard Griffiths may be preferable in some respects—it is on SACD, for one thing—Shelley’s versions in all cases outclass the old cycle by Alfred Walter on Marco Polo. And, if you’re in a hurry to hear these two symphonies, Shelley’s
your man, since they have not yet been issued by CPO.
Both the Seventh and the Ninth are program symphonies from late in Spohr’s life. No. 7, written in 1841, is subtitled “The Earthly and Divine in Human Life,” with each of the three movements being prefaced by a poem characterizing the life stages: “The World of Childhood,” “The Age of Passion,” and “Final Victory of the Divine.” Musically, the contrast between the “earthly” and the “divine” is depicted by the use of two orchestras, the larger,
group representing the former, and a smaller group of 11 instruments (string quartet and wind quintet, plus a bass and a second horn) representing the latter. This makes for some problematic instrumental balances, and must have given the recording engineers fits; members of the small Orchestra 1 either don’t project over the larger Orchestra 2, or they seem artificially highlighted. It should be added that the piece is not a
, in that the writing and the forms are thoroughly symphonic, partaking of none of the drama or display of the concerto. Ultimately, the experiment—based on the model of Spohr’s own double quartets—is not fully successful, but it makes for some interesting listening.
Symphony No. 9, “The Seasons,” was written in 1850, when the composer was 66, and one can’t help thinking that Spohr had continued to write music after he had run out of things to say. His “Winter” pales in harshness in comparison with, say, the storm in Beethoven’s Sixth; “Spring” and “Summer” are pretty, in a bland sort of way; “Autumn” features the predictable hunting horns, and a drinking song to boot.
is less than a minute long—are of no great consequence, although the
, written for a royal wedding, is notable for its use of the
or Grandfather Dance, familiar through its appearance in Schumann’s
Listeners who have heard other issues in this series will find no surprises with this one: Shelley’s tempos are generally fleet, the playing of the Swiss orchestra is quite fine, and Hyperion’s recording (with the qualification noted above) is attractive if somewhat recessed. The notes, by Spohr authority Keith Warsop, are detailed and informative. For those new to Spohr’s symphonies, this is not the ideal place to start; for those who have purchased the other volumes in this series, it is a must. You know who you are.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
This is the fifth volume in this series devoted to Spohr’s symphonic and orchestral works. As before it’s Howard Shelley and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana that do the honours. There are two major symphonies to consider and two much - in one case very, very much - smaller works that are receiving their first-ever recordings.
The Seventh Symphony dates from 1841 and is saddled with one of those portentous subtitles beloved of the Teuton, namely
The earthly and divine in human life. Rather more interestingly it’s written for two orchestras, one small and the other of the usual mid-nineteenth century size. Thus eleven instruments represent the ‘divine’ and the full orchestra represents the human. These answering paragraphs are redolent of the vogue for double quartets, something Spohr’s wife in fact suggested to him.
There are numerous felicities in the symphony, a light and warmly burnished work, not least the delightful bassoon and clarinet ‘duet’ in the second movement, and the concertante style role for the first violin – played elegantly but with quite a slim tone. There’s also a deal of contrast between the heavenly liquidity of the wind writing and the more powerful, sonorous, tangy humanity of the strings, in particular, and the brass as well. There are some moments in the finale – the final victory of the divine in Spohr’s schema, a rather nobly realised affair – that sound almost proto-Grieg, although the prevailing ethos, I suppose, must be accounted Schumannesque.
The Ninth Symphony of 1850 is subtitled
The Seasons and is divided into two parts. The work opens in
Winter, and then ends in
Autumn, an unusual approach that actually works quite well. The transition sections between seasons are separately tracked. The string writing is alternately spruce and weightily imposing, whilst the winds chirrup when appropriate. There’s a raptly Beethovenian
Summer movement, which is, in effect, a
Largo of some intensity and warmth, with a stormy percussion interlude. Transitions are fleet and well timed, the whole symphony genial and listenable.
There have been other recordings of both these works. Anton Rickenbacher’s Bavarian Radio Orchestra recording of the Ninth on Orfeo [C094841A, coupled with No.6] was more compactly structured and also perhaps a touch more exuberant than Shelley’s. Alfred Walter recorded a lot of Spohr for Marco Polo, coupling Seven with Eight. In contradistinction to Rickenbacher, Walter is a lot more meditative and lateral than Shelley in No.7, except in the finale, so if you prefer a more extended journey he’s the one to go for (8.223432 – with the Slovak State Philharmonic). I’m very happy with Shelley’s more incisive tempi for the first two movements.
The two premiere recordings are the brief and exuberant
Introduzione in D major and the rousingly confident
Festmarsch in D major, full of brio and panache. And both are played with appropriate confidence.
The Hyperion recording quality is good but there’s just a touch of opaqueness in the lower strings.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Introduzione in D major, WoO5 by Louis Spohr
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Festmarsch in D major, WoO3 by Louis Spohr
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
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