Thursday 2 October 2014

Louis Spohr - Die letzten Dinge

Die letzten Dinge - Louis Spohr - Mozarteumorchester Salzburg
Louis Spohr Die letzten Dinge; Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, Ivor Bolton; Oehms Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Rare outing for early Romantic oratorio

The German composer Louis Spohr (1784 - 1859) was a composer somewhat between eras. Two years older than Weber, his youth was the era of Classicism whilst his prime saw him the most important composer following the deaths of Beethoven and Weber. But in later life, though respected, he was overshadowed by Mendelssohn and Schumann. His works quickly fell out of usage and are only currently beginning to be re-evaluated, with his operas Faust and Jessonda starting to get performances. But Spohr wrote in a whole variety of forms and his oratorio Die letzten Dinge (literally The Last Things, but usually translated as The Last Judgement) was premiered in Kasel (where he was Kapellmeister) in 1826. It has now received a strong recording from the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg on Oehms Classics, with a remarkably British line-up of performers, Sally Matthews, Katharine Goeldner, Jeremy Ovenden, Andrew Foster-Williams conducted by Ivor Bolton, with the Salzburger Bachchor.

The oratorio has a text by Friedrich Rochlitz (1769 - 1842), a writer based in Leipzig, with the text based on verses from Scripture. The work was originally Rochlitz's idea and he approached Spohr with the text, but they then had a very equal and harmonious collaboration. The work is a sequence of arias and choruses, but Spohr has a very flexible view of recitative and the results flow beautifully whilst providing a lovely fluid work.

The sound world is very much that of early 19th century Germany. With the combination of classicism and romanticism, you could easily imagine that you were listening to early Mendelssohn and the work made me re-assess the way we view the development of German Romantic music. Weber wrote no major oratorios, and this work provides interesting links. Spohr does not always have the melodic facility of Weber and Mendelssohn, his musical material is not always immediately memorable, but the results are highly expressive.

Whilst there are dramatic moments, and a little sturm, drang and drama, as befits the subject matter, the overall feel is rather more subtle and thoughtful. The work receives a very strong performance, with the four soloists Sally Matthews, Katharine Goeldner, Jeremy Ovenden and Andrew Foster-Williams providing fine musical performances with strong contributions from Salzburger Bachchor and Mozarteumorchester Salzburg. Ivor Bolton clearly has a feel for the music and Spohr's transitional style, giving it both the classical structure and romantic sensibility. The orchestra responds with playing that has a nice litheness and a certain historically informed perspective.

When it comes to the recording, I have one or two slight doubts. Sally Matthews voice, when heard live, has an interesting vibrato but with a strong and firm core, but on the recording we get a rather stronger feeling of her vibrato than is desirable. The other soloists seem to be slightly recessed and I would have liked them a little more forward in the mix. But it has to be borne in mind that this is a live recording.

The CD booklet comes with an interesting article on Spohr and his work. There is also the full text in German, but rather frustratingly there is no English translation nor are there indications of where the passages come from in the Bible, which might have been helpful.

This is a work which deserves greater exposure, certainly a choral society looking to move on from Mendelssohn's Elijah could do well to explore it. Despite some minor grouses, this is a strong recording of a fascinating work.

Louis Spohr (1784 - 1859) - Die letzten Dinge (WoO 61) (1825/26) [74.26]
Sally Matthews (soprano)
Katharine Goeldner (mezzo-soprano)
Jeremy Ovenden (tenor)
Andrew Foster-Williams (bass)
Salzburger Bachchor
Mozarteumorchester Salzburg
Ivor Bolton (director)

Recorded June 8, 2013 Stiftung Mozarteum Grosses Saal, Salzburg (live recording)
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 438 1 CD [74.26]
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