Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op.125 (1843) [26:34]
Rondoletto in G major, Op.149 (1848) [4:08]
George ONSLOW (1784-1853)
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.2 (1807) [30:06]
Six Pièces (c.1848) [13:21]
Toccata in C major, Op.6 (1811) [4:05]
Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. November 2011, St, Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA67947 [78:16]
This canny coupling presents two piano sonatas by contemporaries
Louis Spohr and Georg (or Georges) Onslow but from very different
parts of their compositional lives. Spohr’s Sonata in
A flat major was written in 1843 whilst Onlow’s Sonata
in C minor was written back in 1807. Inevitably they represent
wholly different aesthetic and stylistic positions.
Spohr, a virtuoso violinist, harboured a rather disdainful view
of the piano until he heard the English Broadwood piano, at
which point he ditched his prejudices and wrote the sonata recorded
here, which he dedicated to Mendelssohn. In four equable movements
it opens with a warmly flowing cantabile, showing no signs at
all of any infelicity when it comes to writing for the instrument
with which he had been relatively unfamiliar. There’s
a certain amount of Weber, maybe even mid-period Beethoven,
and a good deal of charm. In his notes Richard Wigmore characterises
the Romanze as ‘bel canto’ and that’s
a fair description, given its persuasive, vocalised quality;
but there’s contrast and incident, too, and in the Scherzo
Spohr makes play with key changes to keep one on one’s
aural toes. The finale, meanwhile, is delightfully restless
with fulsome ländler rhythms. Spohr’s only other
piano work is the Rondoletto of 1848, a pleasant enough
affair requested of him by the wife of composer and virtuoso
pianist Ignaz Moscheles.
Onslow’s 1807 Sonata shows the influence of Haydn, not
unreasonably so given that he was 23 when he wrote it, whereas
Spohr, showing Weber’s hand in places, was 59 when he
wrote his sonata. It’s a deftly constructed work, cleverly
canonic writing being a highlight of the Menuetto, which
reveals a high level of technical sophistication and polish.
Maybe after the March theme in the slow movement one or two
of the subsequent variations are more dutiful than inspired,
but the Pastorale finale, with its long and flowing lines,
sweeps all away with decorative lightness and panache. Onslow’s
delightful Six Pièces were written at around the
same time as Spohr’s Rondoletto, and they’re
a kind of Song without Words, of which by far the longest
is the last. Howard Shelley responds with some of his freshest
playing in these miniatures and he digs into the bigger technical
demands of the Toccata in C major of 1811 with real vigour.
This sounds so much like Schumann’s Toccata, written
over twenty years in the future, it’s uncanny. Surely
he must have known it, and buried it away in his musical subconscious.
Whatever the cause and effect, Onslow’s work is a fine
one in its own right.
With a first class recording and thoroughly sympathetic performances
this Spohr-Onslow disc has much to commend it.