Howard Shelley / Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana

Spohr: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Concert Overture in F major

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Even though Louis Spohr lived well into the Romantic era, and was a contemporary of such cutting-edge figures as Beethoven, Berlioz, Paganini, Liszt, and Wagner, his music stayed remarkably Classical in form and substance, and sounded conservative in style, even late in his career. It shouldn't be surprising to find that his Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 20 (1811), would sound a lot like Mozart's Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543; or that the Symphony No. 2 in D minor, Op. 49 (1820), while somewhat more advanced and original in symphonic development, would sound no more radical than Weber, and even evoke Haydn in its droll Finale. This 2007 Hyperion release presents Spohr's first two symphonies with the Sturm und Drang-styled Grand Concert Overture in F major, WoO 1 (1819), making this a fairly balanced program, if not a convincing introduction to the composer's music. The performances by Howard Shelley and the Swiss-Italian Radio Orchestra are vivacious and sharply executed, and Hyperion's recording is rich and warm. But these compositions are not representative of the best in Spohr's oeuvre, and are less persuasive than his chamber music, of which the Nonet, the Octet, and the four Double Quartets are his most popular and charming. Newcomers to Spohr's music have several fine recordings of the chamber works to choose from, and they should sample them first rather than form an opinion based on these pleasant but less distinctive orchestral works.

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