Louis Spohr: Symphonies 7 & 9

NDR Radiophilharmonie, Howard Griffiths
cpo 777 746-2
+ “Erinnerung an Marienbad” (waltzes for small orchestra, op. 89)

Louis Spohr is perhaps best known as the composer of music for his own instrument, the violin. These symphonies (the 7th premiered in 1842 and the 9th from 1850) reveal that he had a far broader imagination than his tuneful and dramatic concertos suggest; the former is scored for two “orchestras” (representing–  in the simplest terms – good and evil) and the latter (which may be autobiographical) is subtitled “Die Jahreszeiten” which starts with Autumn! I requested a review of this disc since, as part of a complete series (and an extended discography from the record company), it represents the current state of performance practice in this repertoire. The recording of the 7th symphony is telling – the smaller of the two orchestras (“the divine in human life”) is beautifully captured (as is the smaller ensemble in the disc’s filler, a series of waltzes), with the solo strings and delicate woodwinds nicely balanced; “the earthly in human life” on the other hand is overpowered to a large degree by a brass section who simply swamp the detail (not an uncommon experience in performances by large orchestras). This was perhaps not so much of a problem in the other symphony because there was no juxtaposition of two ensembles and the ear became used to the more uniform sound. I wonder if period instruments – and a different approach to producing blankets of sound in the brass? – might help to reveal the subtleties of Spohr’s textures. That said, are there any period bands working in this area at all nowadays?

Brian Clark