, May 2005
This is the first of the Spohr series on Marco Polo to come my way. It completely rebuffs any idea that Spohr is in any way a second-rate composer. Aggressively progressive he was not, that much is true; he was, however, talented, searching and capable of providing real delights and surprises, as this well-recorded (warm, but not muddy) disc testifies.
Spohr was nearing the end of his tenureship as Kapellmeister at Kassel when he penned these two quartets. The first we hear, No. 24, is a delightful work; the choice of the appealing key of G major as home key was no accident! Yaroslav Kresnikov’s violin is as eloquent as they come. The slow movement is the highlight, with nice ‘grainy’ pianos from the players. This is interior music, not late Beethoven to be sure but, surprisingly, not too far off, especially when played with such warmth and affection. The Moscow Philharmonic Concertino String Quartet’s players blend well while still maintaining individuality.
Interesting that the third movement is marked ‘Alla polacca’. There is more than a touch of the rustic here, and interplay is finely judged between parts. The final Allegro movement is quite disturbed - again seemingly contravening the sunny G major home-key - the repeated notes seeming to imply a level of unrest. This is a lively performance, with rhythms well sprung and a great tossing around of motifs towards the end.
The A minor quartet dates from around the same time. Its shadowy opening leads to more of those eloquent exchanges, this time tinged with sadness. Listeners dismissive of Spohr on grounds of lack of depth of expression need to hear this as a necessary corrective. The slow movement - an Andante as opposed to an Adagio - this time is almost courtly, a source of joy that does not possess the ambitions of its predecessor. The quasi-improvised first violin line around 4’10 is delightful.
The Scherzo, however, is dark of mien - the quartet darkens its tone in sympathy - and as if to elongate this atmosphere the Andante ‘introduction’ to the finale is very long ... and uneasy, harmonically unstable. No joyous finale here; the close is entirely appropriate with the music just dying out.
The interesting and understandably defensive booklet note is provided by Keith Warsop who is chairperson of the Spohr Society of Great Britain.
Do investigate. The Moscow Philharmonic Concertino String Quartet clearly believe heart and soul in Spohr’s music. After hearing this, maybe you will too.