|About this Recording
8.570840 - SPOHR, L.: Concertantes Nos. 1 and 2 / Duet in G Major, Op. 3, No. 3 (Kraggerud, Bjora, Oslo Camerata, Baratt Due Chamber Orchestra, Barratt-Due)
Louis Spohr (1784–1859)
Concertos for multiple soloists were rare in the romantic era. The cult of the solo-virtuoso dominated the genre with its strong focus on the unique individuality of a specific performer’s contribution to what is essentially an argumentative form. While excelling in this type of concerto as well, with four Clarinet Concertos and the eighteen solo Violin Concertos, Louis Spohr sought to place musical integrity ahead of superficial showmanship in the relationship between soloist and ensemble.
When Spohr was eighteen years old, a concert-tour took him to St Petersburg in Russia where he witnessed an Orthodox church ritual. He was fascinated by the antiphonal singing of the church choirs, and a life-long interest in the responsorial possibilities inherent in dialogue became a driving inspirational force in many of his compositions. This interest manifested itself in works such as the beautiful Mass, Op. 54, for two choirs of 1821, and the gorgeous collection of four double string-quartets. It culminated in his Seventh Symphony written for double orchestra. The two Concertanti recorded here belong in this category, where two equally important forces share the stage and enter into a civilized conversation with one another.
One can notice a nostalgic tendency in Spohr’s aesthetic which coincided with the rise of “bourgeois historicism” in the other arts. It has often been called the Biedermeier style, and is characterized by elegance, sturdy workmanship, and emotional reticence; this style was to be maligned in the rise of the sensational in art. Louis Spohr opposed the superficiality of the national romantic school of composition, which he considered vulgar, repetitive, blatant and bombastic. In his Sixth Symphony, the ‘Historical’, of 1839, he lambasts this tendency in the symphony’s last movement, with its subtitle ‘From our own time’. This stand against growing commercialism in music led to many difficulties in his career. He resigned the directorship of the Frankfurt Opera when they refused to stage Beethoven’s Fidelio. It was his championing of the works of Beethoven, Weber, and the young Wagner (he conducted early performances of The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser) that best illustrates his opposition to contemporary tendencies, which lay in his desire to promote what he considered to be the true art of composition. He demanded structural discipline and the subservience of the virtuosic to the musical utterance. This does not mean that his works do not display instrumental brilliance. The music is extremely demanding technically and the glittering solo passages overwhelm the listener with feelings of satisfaction and contentment. Spohr’s style has been accused of being “feminine”, but there is no tasteless excess and, at the same time, the music is harmonically advanced with a strong emphasis on chromatic invention. The forms he chooses for his concertos are classical but never routine. At the other extreme, he developed the art of through-composition and pioneered the use of the Leit-motiv in his operas (Faust 1813 and Jessonda 1822) before Wagner. The over-riding tendency, however, was his emphasis on good taste, solid craftsmanship and emotional restraint. This aesthetic has been problematic for his subsequent reputation, in that concert-goers have demanded a more extrovert sensationalised form of expression. The subtleties inherent in Spohr’s style have often been regarded as his weakness. This is certainly not the case, but the listener must attune him/herself to a sonic world inhabited by a delicate sensibility, to small shifts in thematic emphasis. Spohr is a master of the developmental possibilities inherent in a clear melodic contour, which is usually presented unadorned at the beginning of each composition.
All of this is in ample evidence in his two Concertanti recorded here, which he enjoyed playing together with his best pupils. The generosity of the shaping of the individual parts does not place one soloist above the other. Rather they complement one another and contribute to one another’s display. This collegiality manifested itself in his tireless promotion of his contemporaries—both performers and composers—as well as his championing of the works of J.S. Bach. Indeed, the two works have more in common with Bach’s concerto for similar forces in its use of Baroque ideals inherited from the Concerto Grosso.
Spohr uses the term concertante to describe these two works for two violins and orchestra. Each Concertante is in the traditional three movements. The first, the Concertante in A major, Op. 48, was composed in 1808. The introduction is in a mellow A minor, containing wisps of the main contour appearing before the Allegro begins in earnest presented by the two violinists playing in octaves. The second, the Concertante in B minor, Op. 88, written in 1833, is a mature work that predates many of the stylistic traits copied later by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Mahler. The orchestral introduction sets the stage for the two soloists who present the two themes of this sonata movement. The second movement begins with the soloists playing double-stops, the result sounding like a string quartet. The last movement is again in Rondo form with a theme of darker hue, perhaps reflecting the fatal illness of his wife Dorette.
Louis Spohr’s Violinschule, published in 1833, was one of the founding pillars of the German violin tradition. The work consists of violin duets for teacher and pupil. The Violin Duet in G major, Op. 3, No. 3 included here is, in contrast, written for two equal partners, enjoying a lively dialogue.
Olav Anton Thommessen
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