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Spohr Orchestral Works

Symphonies 1 and 2; concert overture

Orchestra de svizzera italiana / Howard Shelley

Hyperion CDA 67616

Hyperion is well-known for immaculately presented CDs of the B-list of history’s composers, and this is no exception. By giving such composers the best possible chance to present themselves to posterity, it manages to have its cake and eat it – broadening musical history and context and at the same time showing us very clearly why Spohr was never Beethoven.

Like listening to a Dussek or Woeffel piano sonata, the style is instantly recognisable and we are more than comfortable listening within it. But that comfort is the key. The music itself does not surprise us, it does not ‘go anywhere.’ It lacks the punch and power of Beethoven, who intuitively knew when to underline a point and when to move on. Even the concert overture lacks the immediacy of Coriolan or Egmont.

Smooth silky playing by the Swiss-Italians, fluent conducting from Shelley, clear modern recording, interesting notes, and a classic Caspar David Friedrich on the cover. Not a word of quarrel, then about performance or production values.

Above all, the drawback of this music is that it does not innovate. But did Spohr on another front? In the notes he is lauded for being the first to conduct with a baton, for being a key figure, maybe the key figure in the movement away from a continuo-type figure beating time to a man standing at the front of the orchestra directing them with his arms….and his charisma. But the emergence of the conductor is a complicated (though not complex) historical question, and the booklet may be as much a piece of special pleading as the disc.

As with the rest of the current Hyperion batch, you will almost certainly know without reading any review whether you want this disc.

Ying Chang