Spohr, Rode, Viotti, Molique … the list of violin titans, both as virtuosos and composers, is a long one but this quartet is especially exciting to collectors, partly because so much is yet to be explored. Spohr was one of Molique’s teachers, and the older man’s eminence has never been fully eclipsed, as there have always been at least some recordings of his music in the catalogue. His Violin Concertos survived because of their approachability, as in the case of the relatively popular Eighth, which was recorded by Jascha Heifetz and just as magnificently by Albert Spalding. But, just as importantly, teachers gave their students Spohr’s concertos to work on, as they did Viotti’s - Kreisler loved several of his concertos - and Rode’s; Molique’s less, because of their intrinsic technical difficulties.
It wasn’t all concertos, and in any case Spohr is undergoing something of a revival, on disc at least. In this CD, entitled Grand Duo, Ingolf Turban and pianist Kolja Lessing explore the more small-scale pleasures of the chamber repertoire. The disc takes its name from the Grand Duo Concertante
, a half-hour piece dating from 1837. His second wife was a pianist, and his writing for the piano was inspired by the salon performances they gave together. Lessing is at pains, in his notes, to stress the wit and Biedermeier, parodic element at work here, though the work can assuredly be listened to without being aware of them. Firstly, despite the heroism of the work’s title, I think it’s important not merely to get Schubert out of one’s mind, but also any Beethovenian vestiges too. This is, in contrast, a thoroughly unpretentious, agreeable, beautifully laid-out work. Its wit is balanced by charm and its drollery by light lyricism.
The other big work is the Six Salon Pieces
, Op.135 written between 1846 and 1847. These six dance pieces, both antique and contemporary, are vividly characterised. The opening Barcarole
was particularly popular and its Schumannesque inheritance, whilst clear, is neatly absorbed and conjoined with a propensity for sinewy passagework. Spohr’s liking of witty conjunctions is best explored in the Sarabande
, where some deliberately heavy writing contrasts with amusingly lighter motifs. In the Air varié
Spohr visits the past with easy sophistication and casts a free set of variations that marry eloquence with engagement. That said, I doubt Spohr would have performed this as a set too often, despite the considerable potential for variety.
The two small remaining works are the Adagio
in G major and the Rondoletto
. The Adagio
(1820) is by far the earliest work in this recital. Written in three parts, it’s an urgent and tense piece, oscillating quite vividly between emotive extremes. The Rondoletto
is the only work here that is written for piano solo; indeed it was the composer’s only work for piano other than the Piano Sonata of 1843. It’s a pleasant, though largely unremarkable affair.
Lessing’s erudite and interesting booklet notes have been exceptionally well translated by J. Bradford Robinson. With characteristically fine sound quality, this excellently performed disc adds another enjoyable slice to the expanding Spohr discography. Those coming fresh to the composer’s violin works, however, should probably start elsewhere, given that much here is very light in spirit.