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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Octet in E major, Op.32 [24:41]
Clarinet Concerto No.1 in C minor, Op.26 [19:48]
Nonet in F major, Op.31 [30:44]
Vienna Octet (Op.32)
Gervase de Peyer (clarinet) London SO/Colin Davis (Op.26)
Fine Arts Quartet, New York Wind Quintet (Op.31)
rec. 1958-61, stereo, ADD
ALTO ALC1266 [75:31]

Even from today's vantage point, when at least two cycles of Spohr's symphonies are complete or are in hand, this collection has its virtues. It looks back half a century to a world where Spohr was regarded as specialist, exotic or stuffy Victoriana. As for his symphonies they were at that time still gathering new layers of dust in various libraries and archives.

These recordings derive from Decca, Oiseau Lyre and Saga long-players. They have made the migration to digital courtesy of Paul Arden-Taylor. The music and artists are well documented by Alto regular, James Murray.

We have seen this performance of the Octet before; not least in the Decca Legends series of yore. Here it positively glows in the hands of an ensemble that includes two Boskovskys: Willi (violin) and Alfred (clarinet). The instrumental lines emerge and converge in agreeable collective refinement and with individual character not sacrificed. All flows smoothly and inevitably - yet leaves not a rack behind in the first movement. It flows along but leaves no lasting impression. The second movement has more memorable material while its successor with its variation on a Handelian theme has Schubertian brilliance and dignity. The finale is a conversation in excellence with the French horn nicely sketched in.

The Clarinet Concerto is another classic, here played by a doyen of the clarinet: Gervase de Peyer. This is in the same territory as the two Weber concertos: Beethovenian at times and having the effect of the sun observed through tolerant clouds. The soloist, Decca gentry if ever there was one, balances wildness and smooth display. I mentioned Weber; he rated Spohr highly.

Lastly we come to a Saga retrieval in which two New York-based ensembles used by the label in those long-distant days come together. The reading has unruly life and individuality but the sound is not of the very finest. No reason to hold back, though, even if the recording does suffer from some slight close-up distortion.

An enjoyable insight into the early days of the Spohr revival on disc.

Rob Barnett


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