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Dip Your Ears, No. 194 (Spohr Nonet & Sextet)

available at Amazon
L.Spohr, String Sextet, Nonet,
camerata freden

available at Amazon
L.Spohr, String Sextet, Nonet,
camerata freden
Tacet DVD-Audio

SPOHR String Sextet in C, op.140. Nonet in F, op.31 Camerata Freden TACET 172 (58:22)

Louis Spohr has always had a place in “The Art of the Clarinet” type of compilations and as a pleasant chamber music filler coupled with Brahms, Beethoven, or Schubert. Marco Polo then started a terrific series dedicated to his String Quartets and Quintets that continues to this day. Orfeo and CPO discovered the appeal of Spohr soon thereafter and as of late we have the good people at Hyperion turning their attention to his symphonies.

Spohr can’t, therefore, be said to be a particularly neglected composer, but despite the increasing discography he somehow still manages to stand in the shadow of, among others, Mendelssohn. Every time I hear his music, I want to cry out—lest someone think otherwise—that the reason for that is not to be found in the quality of his work. There is nothing I’ve heard of Spohr yet that was just ‘serviceable’ or ‘competent’, to use two adjectives routinely employed to kill a composer’s output with kindness.

If there is an ionarts-reader who does not yet know Spohr from his clarinet concertos, chamber works, or perhaps his exceptional opera “Faust”, he or she might do well imagining a continuous line of musical development from Mozart via Spohr to Mendelssohn as if Mozart—Beethoven—Brahms had never happened. There is nothing of the brooding and belabored romanticism of the latter two composers in Spohr’s works which, instead, teem with joyful spirit, luminous but not fluffy; delicate but not flimsy. The skeleton is classical, the meat romantic.

Camerata Freden, the chamber ensemble of the Freden International Music Festival with roving membership, here presents the early Nonet in F (written in 1813, the first to use flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass; predating Onslow’s by over 40 years and Rheinberger’s by 70) and the String Sextet in C, written during and dedicated to the German revolution 1848.

Both works are very easy on the ears— the Sextet a double barreled string trio (like Boccherini’s Sextets) that smoothly skates its classical-romantic course; wind-heavy and bubbly the Nonet. As Colin Anderson rightly said of the Nonet in 31:3 when reviewing the Ensemble 360’s recording: “witty, elegant, and expressive: every bit as good, I suggest, as Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet.” (Although I’d caution against too much comparison of Spohr to Beethoven which might lead to misleading expectations that could be one of the causes of the relative short shrift Spohr has been getting.)

Given how much I like Spohr’s chamber works, I have surprisingly few of the available versions for comparison. For the Nonet, Anderson places the Ensemble 360 slightly ahead of the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion. Having heard neither of those, I hold the Consortium Classicum on Orfeo in the highest regards, as I cherish the Villa Musica Ensemble on MDG (receiving “the strongest possible recommendation” by Robert McColley in 25:2). Together with the Camerata Freden they form a classy triptych of which this release has the most precise, transparent sound. The Villa Musica Ensemble (on a different disc, also recommended by Robert McColley, in 28:2) is the main competition in the Sextet, while the New Haydn Quartet (reissued on Naxos) can’t quite match the precision and liveliness of the Camerata Freden players.

First published in Fanfare Magazine

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