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8.223510 - SPOHR: Violin Concertos Nos. 2 and 9
Louis Spohr (1784-1859)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 2 (1804)
Violin Concerto No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 55 (1820)
Violin concertos were central to the first half of Spohr's career when he combined the role of travelling virtuoso with posts in Brunswick (1798-1805), Gotha (1805-1812) and Frankfurt (1817-1819). Consequently, the bulk of his work in this field belongs to these years. After his appointment (for life) as Music Director in Kassel (from 1822) he composed only two full-scale violin concertos, with three in abbreviated form which he entitled "Concertinos".
The full list of Spohr's violin concertos is as follows (Roman numerals indicate order of composition, Arabic numerals indicate published designations);
Spohr's concertos were influenced by two major sources: the French violin school of Viotti, Kreutzer and Rode; and the Viennese classical school of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In his concertos, Spohr attempted to merge the violinistic approach of the former with the higher seriousness, perfection of form and developmental skills of the latter. From Viotti he copied the full-scale slow introduction (in Concertos 3, 10, 11 and WoO 12); adapted Viotti's and Rode's style of passagework to include greater chromaticism; and generally followed the French style of Rondo Finale with its "Alla Polacca" rhythms and its steady Allegretto pace, allowing for a greater degree of ornamental display. From Vienna he took the integrated thematic workmanship; the increased emphasis upon development; and the greater seriousness and scope of the slow movements which, with Viotti, were generally lyrical "operatic" arias. One model available from both the French and Viennese schools he completely rejected, though - the improvised cadenza. Spohr believed that such "showing off" denigrated the status of art and devalued the composition. His concertos rarely include cadenzas; when they do, the cadenzas are written out and always short: see Concertos 5 or 8 (some modern performers are known to interpolate their own longer cadenzas into Spohr's concertos - these are, of course, spurious).
Spohr also attempted to make the concerto form less rigid - importing the recitative into No. 6 and, famously, into No. 8. Other innovations include doing away with the introductory orchestral tutti (in No. 10 of 1810, 21 years before Mendelssohn is given credit for this move in his Piano Concerto No. 1. He does, however, preface his movement with a short slow introduction for orchestra alone). He also jettisoned the full-scale sonata-form first movement in No. 8 and No. 12 as well as doing without one of any sort in No. 13, which consists of slow movement and finale only. Other concertos offer amalgams of these approaches.
"On the 10th December, 1804, Herr Spohr gave a concert in Leipzig and, at the solicitation of many, a second on the 17th, in both of which he afforded us a treat such as, so far as we can remember, no violinist with the exception of Rode ever gave us. Herr Spohr may without doubt take rank among the most eminent violinists of the present day and one would be astonished at his powers, more especially when his youth is considered, were it possible to pass from a sense of real delight to cold astonishment. He gave us a grand concerto of his own composition (D minor) which was called for a second time, and another, also from his own pen (E minor). His concerti rank with the finest existing and, in particular, we know of no violin concerto which can take precedence of that in D minor, whether as regards conception, soul and charm or also in respect of precision and firmness. His peculiarity inclines mostly to the grand and to a soft, dreamy melancholy. And so it is with his brilliant play. Herr Spohr can execute everything; but he charms most by the former. As regards, in the first place, correctness of play in the broadest sense, it is here, as may be presupposed, as sure fundamental principle; a perfect purity, surety and precision, the most remarkable execution; every manner of bowing, every variety of violin tone, the most unembarrassed ease in the management of all these, even in the most difficult passages; these constitute him one of the most accomplished virtuosi. But the soul which he breathes into his play, the flights of fancy, the fire, the tenderness, the intensity of feeling, the fine taste and lastly his insight into the spirit of the most different compositions and his art of rendering each in its own peculiar spirit make him a real artist."
With this eulogy in his review in the "Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung", the Leipzig critic Friedrich Rochlitz catapulted the 20-year-old Spohr to overnight fame as a violin virtuoso and composer throughout the German lands. Later in the 19th century, when Spohr had become accepted as a member of the pantheon of "great composers", his masterpieces in the violin concerto form were generally agreed to be numbers 7, 8, 9 and 11 but it was this early D minor work which followed them in popularity and remained the most played of his early concerti. It was published again and again in editions by many of the leading violin teachers and even today violin students can find a number of these available.
The work displays the young Spohr's compositional skills at their best: spontaneity in his use of the concerto form (note the lyrical variant of the opening march motive with which the soloist enters); melodic richness (the Mozartian second subject of the first movement; the main theme of the Adagio with its demanding use of double-stopping; the catchy polonaise tune in the finale and that movement's lyrical contrasting section); imaginative harmonic treatment (the breathtaking moment in the finale when the broad lyrical tune returns in D major after a Beethoven-like passage in the orchestra - then the final return of the minor-key polonaise theme). Only in the hustle and bustle of the bridge passage tuttis in the first movement does Spohr fail to improve on his violinistic predecessors such as Viotti. Later, Spohr would learn to give such sections a stronger thematic underpinning.
Spohr began to write the last violin concerto dating from his "virtuoso years" towards the end of the summer of 1820 shortly after returning from his first visit to London. Spohr and his family were staying with his parents in Gandersheim, near Brunswick, at the time while preparing for a winter tour to Paris. The new concerto was conceived with that project in mind but Spohr was then invited to conduct a two-day music festival in Quedlinberg on 13th and 14th October and, as he writes in his memoirs: "made all haste to finish the concerto in order to be able to perform there for the first time." It made a great impact and quickly became accepted as one of his master concertos. On the way to Paris Spohr played the concerto in Frankfurt and other German cities before introducing it to the French on 10th January, 1821, at the Théâtre Favart.
The work marks the culmination of the French violin school influence in Spohr's compositions, (no doubt deliberately so in view of the Parisian plan) with its imposing opening in which Spohr's normal concerto orchestra is reinforced by three trombones - although a Frankfurt reviewer felt he could detect Handel's spirit in the "colossal effect" of this opening tutti. The "thematic working-out" of the Viennese classics takes second place in this concerto in favour of a more "operatic" or dramatic quality although Spohr does not shun formal subtleties of the Mozartian kind such as reserving the first movement's "true" second subject until the solo violin appears on the scene. Spohr himself (in his Violin School of 1831) categorised this opening Allegro as "serious yet passionate"; the Adagio as "cheerful and calm"; and the Rondo finale as needing "boisterous impetuosity". The F major slow movement, one of Spohr's finest, projects a lyrical melody enhanced with chromatic scales and decorative passagework which could almost convince a listener that it was an improvisation, while there is contrast in a more passionate central section. The moderate Allegretto pace of the finale allows room for the soloist to bring out the theme in thirds and sixths with the "singing touch" asked for by Spohr, and also the "extremely fiery, almost wild style of execution" of the B minor solo and the "gentle calm" of the middle part.
One can imagine the effect of the concerto when played by the 6 foot 7 inch tall composer. In the words of his pupil Hans Michel Schletterer: "The small instrument, which he mastered so admirably, seemed in his hand like a toy in the hand of a giant. It is hard to describe with what nonchalance and freedom, elegance and mastery Spohr treated that little thing. Calmly, like a bronze statue, he stood before his music-stand. The softness and gracefulness of his movements, the playful ease... were inimitable."
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain
Since her début at the 1962 Berlin Festival, Christiane Edingerhas become a frequent guest artist with the world's greatest orchestras, including the Philharmonic Orchestras of Berlin, Rotterdam and St. Petersburg and the Symphony Orchestras of the BBC in London and of Vienna, and at the Festivals of Berlin, Vienna, Bregenz, Venice and London. American audiences hear her during annual visits which have been highlighted by appearances with the Boston, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee Symphonies, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and repeated performances at the Carmel Bach and Peter Britt Gardens Festivals, while recitals take her the length and breadth of the United States, to New York, Washington, San Francisco, St. Louis, Pasadena and Salt Lake City.
A favourite performer of composers throughout Europe, Christiane Edinger and her priceless 1632 Amati have been entrusted with first performances by Krzysztof Penderecki, Gottfried von Einem, Boris Blacher, Erhard Grosskopf and Tomas Svoboda. Additional honours have come her way with a number of awards and prizes, among them the 1975 German Critics Award in Music, and the "Kunstpreis" from her native Berlin.
Christiane Edinger's large and varied repertoire includes all the standard violin solo works from the Baroque to the present, as well as many lesser known compositions from all musical periods.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenárd was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief .The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.
Based in Munich, Frank Cramer enjoys an active career as a conductor throughout Europe and in Israel both in the concert-hall and the opera-house. He was born in Essen in 1954 and studied in Hamburg and in Essen before his first engagements as assistant conductor in Rome, Florence, Bologna and Bordeaux. After some years at the Oldenburg State Theatre, he was appointed as the first resident conductor and Deputy Musical Director at the Würzburg Municipal Theatre, where he acquired a wide repertoire of operas from Mozart and Verdi to Shostakovich and Hindemith. Recent engagements have included performances in Trieste and Rijeka, productions with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra for German television and a busy schedule of work with orchestras in Switzerland, Germany and Hungary.
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