Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Charming and genial symphonies

Of all the once celebrated nineteenth century composers who have fallen into obscurity, lost in the dark behind the blinding light of Beethoven's fame and genius, I find Louis Spohr the most appealing. His Third Symphony, from 1828, is so genial, so positive, so cheerful. It has the same naiveté and innocence as Schubert's early symphonies, and leaves a similar nostalgic sadness when it's done. Here is a new recording from Naxos, due October 14, 2016, with Alfred Walter and the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra. This is by no means well-known music, so I'll play you the first movement of the symphony from an earlier recording, with Howard Griffiths conducting the NDR Radiophilharmonie, on a 2007 CPO disc.

There's a portentous strain - more pronounced in Griffiths' version than in Alfred Walter's new recording - that in spite of the C minor key sounds nothing like Beethoven. It looks at the same time back to Mozart and early Schubert, and ahead to Weber and early Mendelssohn. The new recording doesn't have the same verve and drive of the excellent CPO disc, but this is a more than competent reading, expressive and lyrical.

I got a bit worried when I read the programme of Spohr's Sixth Symphony, which he entitled a "Historical Symphony in the Style and Taste of Four Different Periods." It sounded like it might be didactic or satiric (or worse, broadly comical). But the first three movements at least, harkening back to Bach & Handel, to Haydn & Mozart, and to Beethoven, are charming and witty and really spot on. The final movement grinds a contemporary axe, and as so often happens, the point (in this case the skewering of the operas of Auber and Adam) is lost in the mists of time. But even this "musical joke", though it isn't really funny (are they ever?), doesn't seem ill-tempered. The whole pastiche comes off pretty well, and I like Louis Spohr more now than I did before.

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