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Harry van der Wal
Harry’s classical music corner, April 2017

There are so many glittering solo passages and mouth dropping moments and superb interplay between the violinists, that you cannot stop wondering why Spohr is relatively unknown to most. He never gets over emotional, his melodies are always clean but delicately poised, and his harmonies are mouth watering. And then two soloist that are enjoying themselves immensely, and are well equipped to bring out all excellence Spohr put in. Their interplay is smashingly impressive. © 2017 Harry’s classical music corner Read complete review

Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, July 2010

This Naxos recording is well played by excellent forces. In fact, each of the concertantes is a good three minutes shorter, which makes for a livelier performance. The young Norwegian soloists and orchestra are quite competent.

The Naxos has the lower price and the better performances.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, July 2010

Olav Anton Thommessen’s notes to Naxos’s release of two concertants by Louis Spohr notes the composer’s predilection for compositions intended for double forces (the double quartet, the violin duos, and the Seventh Symphony for double orchestra), which Thommessen traces to Spohr’s experience of hearing antiphonal singing in St. Petersburg. The two concertants played by Henning Kraggerud and Øyvind Bjorå span a quarter of a century, while Spohr published the duet much earlier.

Those who admire both Spohr’s duets (often regarded as the best ever written for two violins) and his violin concertos should delight in these concertants; they combine the same sort of relationship between the solos and orchestra, the same melodic turns and penchant for ornamented melody from the concertos with the active, though here more homophonic than contrapuntal, partnership of the two violins from the duets. Aficionados of Spohr’s works will note that perhaps his most popular concerto (at least nowadays), the Eighth, op. 47, comes from the same general period as the First Concertant. That’s apparent in both the figuration and, to some extent, in the thematic material of the first movement. Kraggerud and Bjorå play Spohr’s intricate tracery exuberantly at a rapid tempo. They match so well that they present almost a single strand of sound to counter the orchestra’s forces. Both violinists play with tonal and technical command (Kraggerud on a 1744 Guarneri del Gesù), producing a warm sonority in the melodious slow movement. The Rondo presents the two soloists in dialogue that almost belies Thommessen’s attempt to set Spohr apart from some of his more self-aggrandizing contemporaries; there’s no lack of purely virtuoso excitement in either the first or last of the movements, even if Spohr’s type of virtuosity belonged to an era earlier than Paganini’s (Spohr, for example, disdained off-the-string staccato). Passages in the finale so similar that, but for the dates of their composition, they might have been lifted from the Duo Concertant, op. 67/2 (from 1824), argue for Spohr’s relative stability through his career (although some may point to signs of stylistic development in the concertos). Still, the Second Concertant begins in a mood of darker anticipation (Spohr has been described as addicted to minor keys, perhaps because of the slinkier chromatic possibilities they offer). As in the First Concertant, the soloists enter singing together before loosening their woven strands. Their cooperation as they swirl giddily together in the movement’s headlong passagework (and in the finale’s, as well) could serve as a model, though perhaps one difficult if not impossible to emulate, of perfect ensemble coordination. The slow movement begins with a passage for the two violins alone, reminiscent in its texture of the duos. Spohr, as mentioned, has often been described as the most successful writer of duos for two violins, perhaps because he buried the individuality of the two parts in those works in thickly orchestral textures, allowing for almost symphonic proportions and complexity. As does the Aria of Spohr’s Eighth Concerto, this slow movement has a bravura rapid section at its core. The finale sounds elegant, as do the soloists. The orchestra throughout contributes a sonorous symphonic accompaniment, which the engineers have captured in all its majesty.

The Duet in G Major, as early as it may be, sounds so much like the later duets, at least insofar as the writing for the violins and the thematic turns go, that it might bear a later opus number. These duets exploit the full range of the violin as well as almost all of the pre-Paganini (or at least, non-Paganini) technical devices, assigning them simultaneously to the two violins—no simple trapeze artist and catcher here. David and Igor Oistrakh used to play Spohr’s Duo, op. 67/2, through which they sped at breakneck speed. Kraggerud and Bjorå play this one as Spohr’s duo, not theirs.

I remember Spohr sweatshirts several generations ago, so perhaps Spohr’s time has come and gone again. But recordings like this one suggest that there’s a third (and perhaps fourth and fifth) spring in store for his music. For its breathtaking performances and for its ingratiating repertoire, Naxos’s collection deserves a very strong recommendation across the board.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, June 2010

Spohr’s two Concertanti were written some 25 years apart, and display his characteristic melodic grace, adept interplay, and a sometimes intriguing approach to orchestration. It all makes for fluent listening, especially given the fine performances enshrined in this disc.

The elegant two minute orchestral introduction to the A major Concertante sets the marker. Clever registral interplay demarcates Spohr’s schema, allowing contrast but also unison. Overall he imbues the music with a joie de vivre demonstrated by ebullient trills which lead dramatically into the orchestral tutti—maybe a stock gadget but when carried off with panache still an exciting one. Spohr manages too to imbue the wind writing with sufficient personality and the curlicues for this section add nicely to the orchestral sound-picture. With a rather pious slow movement—neat running orchestral pizzicato show the composer pulling out all the stops—there is also sweet charm. And with a bright, jovial finale, rich in gallant hues (and animating horns) this is a work well worth getting to know.

Its companion was written in 1833. The two violins enter much earlier than in the previous work, establishing their credentials with more romantic spirit. Kraggerud and Bjorå take care to give full weight to those moments when Spohr encourages a spongy lower string statement from the one and an answering crystalline upper string commentary from the other. Again the wind playing is pert—the orchestral forces here are adept. The notes speak of Spohr’s writing here being anticipatory of Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Mahler. Well, the last named is surely far-fetched in this context, but there are some intriguing pre-echoes of Tchaikovsky certainly. The grazioso double-stops of the two soloists in the slow movement are set atop intriguingly reduced orchestral support. The finale has brio but is not aggressive; it’s an Allegretto after all, and has just a few hints that Spohr was more than slightly au fait with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante.

Published in 1833 and one of his studies, the Violin Duet in G major maintains a good balance between expressive and technical demands, the multi-sectional nature of the second movement being especially successful in this regard…this sprucely performed Naxos entrant is notably well played and recorded.

John-Pierre Joyce
MusicWeb International, April 2010

This is a fine and satisfying recording of music which…has strong merits and certainly deserves repeated listening.

…The two concertanti—or double violin concertos, which is what they really are—span either side of the first half of Spohr’s career.

The first, in A major, is a bright sunny work, rooted in the Classical style and cast in a traditional three-movement structure. It is essentially a three-way conversation between the two soloists and orchestra, although the violins tend to gossip amongst themselves most of the time. A strong individual voice emerges in the opening Allegro. The solo lines are cool and restrained, but involve enough technical difficulties to challenge the two excellent soloists—Henning Kraggerud and Øyvind Bjorå—and satisfy the listener’s desire for aural spectacle. After a rather forgettable slow movement, we are treated to a quaint but attractive Rondo with some clever fiddle tricks.

The second concerto, written a quarter of a century later is altogether more restive, with stronger interventions from the orchestra, and a more Romantic feel. The dark opening section of the first movement leads to some feverish playing by the violins, which is followed by an agitated Andantino, where the soloists furiously attack some double-stop marks. The final movement is another rondo, with a quietly subdued outlook.

The CD ends with one of Spohr’s violin duets from his 1833 volume of teacher-pupil studies. A scholarly, technical piece, the G major study, No. 3, probably has more appeal for the performers than the casual listener, but they at least demonstrate that the self-effacing Spohr was more than capable of making a virtuoso splash when he wanted.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, March 2010

The scion of a comfortable and cultured upper middle-class family, Spohr's music reflects the character of the man: suave, elegant, and thoroughly professional at all times, even if seldom touched by inspirational revelations. Spohr was a prodigious composer in most forms, and his opera Jessonda was popular in 19th century Europe. The two concertante works are masterfully wrought and brilliantly executed by the two soloists, who enjoy solid support from the orchestra and good work on behalf of the recording engineer.

Robert R. Reilly, March 2010

Late Romantic music was also very rich and overripe, as in Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau (“The Mermaid”), after Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same title. Here are more storms, gorgeous melodies, and broken hearts in a symphonic fantasy from 1905 that requires a virtuoso orchestra. The style of this intense and highly atmospheric music is redolent of early Schoenberg, without its hints of morbidity. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under James Judd, gives this music the sheen it requires. You will be swept away. The accompanying Sinfonietta from 1934 shows exactly what the post-Romantic meant: The lushness is gone, and in its place is music that is more acerbic and angular. One can easily hear how far 1934 was from the world of pre-war Vienna. This is another outstanding bargain from Naxos (8.570240)., February 2010

The all-Norwegian performances of these works, under the auspices of Oslo’s Barratt Due Institute of Music, are well-balanced and thoroughly effective ones, led by violinist and institute director Stephan Barratt-Due…the soloists offer one of Spohr’s duets for violin teacher and pupil—although in this particular one, the two performers appear as equals, intertwining with poise and elegance.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Naxos continue their bountiful championing of Louis Spohr, the most prolific composer of the early 19th century who provided opera houses, concert halls and chamber music salons with a deluge of works. After his death the tide of popularity turned against him, his detractors accusing him of spreading too little of worth over too many works, a claim that continued to recent times when the record industry began to take another look as his output. He had started life as a virtuoso violinist, and stories of the number of pupils he taught have been grossly exaggerated. Some of his compositions were for their use, the Concertantes for two violins obviously intended for himself and a pupil. In content they are largely of two equal voices, threading separate strands in a complex pattern in outer movements, moving to a sonorous partnership in the slow movements. The finales are the usual virtuoso dash, the works in general taxing in technique, a fact that the soloists, Henning Kraggerud and Oyvind Bjora cannot completely hide. They are, however, enormous fun to hear, and the disc ends with two short Andantes for violin duet. The Oslo Camerata, augmented by members of the Barratt Due Institute, brings a very positive contribution to the disc, the conductor, Stephen Barratt-Due, whose grandfather founded the Barratt Due Institute of Music, has an instinctive feel for Spohr, and if you are just coming to the composer, this would be an admirable entry point.

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