David's Review Corner
, October 2007
We have now reached the twelfth volume in Marco Polo's cycle of the complete string quartets of Louis Spohr. The year was 1851, the thirteenth anniversary of his appointment as kapellmeister in Kassel and tarnished by his open support of the civil revolution that left him much out of favour with the royal court. He had arrived in Kessel having held major conducting posts in Gotha, Vienna and Frankfurt, his growing status in Germany gained as one of the great violinists of his time. As a composer his detractors would cite too little inspiration spread over too many works, his catalogue including many operas, nine symphonies, fifteen violin concertos and a deluge of chamber music. Yet when he was inspired he created masterworks, the sense of personal injustice that surrounded the Thirty-third creating a dark opening, melancholy invading the most beautiful slow movement he composed and with a finale full of anger. Five years later came the Thirty-fifth, a score that caused the composer to make repeated alterations, and an accident that ended his violin career found Spohr questioning his ability to compose. That in turn convinced him to withdrew his recent compositions and banned their future performance. Two years later he died. That the decision was brought on by depression is patently clear when we hear the Thirty-fifth, one his most genial scores, and with strong thematic material for all four movements. In this recording we hear the work in its final revised form for the first time. Completing the disc turns the clock back to 1804 and his first work for string quartet composed in the shape of a string quartet Potpourri on a theme from Pierre Gaveaux's opera. It was his desire to show his own violin virtuosity that tempted him to write unnecessarily difficult parts for the leader, a fact that has played its part in finding so few concert performances. The Moscow based Dima Quartet give elegant and nicely paced accounts of the two quartets, and if Sergey Girshenko's intonation is occasionally found wanting in the Potpourri, I guess that would be the fate awaiting most violinists. Sound quality is excellent.