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Monday, May 8, 2017

Louis Spohr, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Alfred Walter

For the last time we encounter the symphonies of Louis Spohr (1784-1859) with the final volume of the complete cycle as nicely performed by Alfred Walter and the Slovak State Philharmonic. Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (Naxos 8.555527) close the book, complete the circle, and simultaneously reaffirm to overall quality of the music for our ears.

The Symphony No. 7 is subtitled "The Earthly and Divine in Human Life." It is daring work for its time, like the Fourth before an innovation in form shaped by programmatic content. Here the "divine" is represented by a small orchestra, the "earthly" by a large one.. The two groups interact in three-movements--"The World of Childhood," "The Age of Passion" and the "Final Triumph of the Heavenly." The music abandons the expectations of the typical symphonic sequence and form for a more freely expressive approach depicting the dynamic of the two forces in our lives. It unveils long thematic unfoldings somewhat akin to Schubert in the last symphonies, but it follows Spohr's post-Beethoven trajectory as we have come to hear it in the other symphonies.

No. 8 has more of the traditional four movement symphony going for it. But for that matter there is nothing lightweight about it. It has the dramatic dynamic of the Spohr symphonic way and it absorbs and envelopes the listener in all the ways Spohr can do.

So this is a very positive last volume in an unexpected treasure trove of symphonic music. This one is a good place to start. And if you like this one, you'll no doubt respond to the others like I did. Spohr's time may be now. The collection is marvelous!

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