Spohr • Onslow

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COMPOSERS: Spohr; Onslow
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Spohr • Onslow
WORKS: Spohr: Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 125; Rondoletto in G, Op. 149; Onslow: Piano sonata in C minor, Op. 2; Six Pieces; Tocatta in C major, Op. 6
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67947

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Following on from his cycle of the Spohr Symphonies, Howard Shelley turns his attention to the composer’s slender output for piano – an instrument for which he appears to have had no great sympathy. Spohr’s lone Sonata of 1843 has a slow movement of gently lilting melancholy, and a Scherzo whose hesitant, asymmetrical phrases are strikingly individual, but the work is let down by a meandering and over-decorated finale.

Spohr’s exact contemporary George Onslow is a largely forgotten figure, though in his day he was dubbed ‘the French Beethoven’. (He was born after his aristocratic father, the MP for the district of Aldeburgh, had fled to France following a homosexual scandal.) His Sonata of 1807, characteristically cast in a minor key, has a ‘Pastorale’ finale less innocent-sounding than its title would suggest, and an elegant variation slow movement with a hauntingly elegiac coda. Also included here is a set of six salon pieces; and – more interestingly – a glittering C major Toccata that clearly foreshadows the piece of the same kind that Schumann wrote some 20 years later. Shelley plays this music with consummate artistry, making light of its technical difficulties and investing it with all the Romantic charm and ardour it needs. It’s captured in excellent quality sound.

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Misha Donat