Spohr: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 6

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Spohr
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 3 & 6; The Fall of Babylon Overture
PERFORMER: Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Howard Shelley
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67788

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Louis Spohr’s Sixth Symphony is something of a curiosity, with four movements presenting a survey of historical styles ranging from Bach and Handel to the very latest manner of the 1840s. The result isn’t quite as much of a pastiche as it sounds, since everything is filtered through Spohr’s own romantic imagination.

The ‘pastoral’ middle section of the fugal first movement, for instance, is a far cry from the ‘Pastoral symphony’ in Handel’s Messiah, while the scherzo, purportedly evoking the period of Beethoven, actually sounds more like watered-down Mendelssohn or Schumann. In the finale, with its ‘Turkish’ percussion instruments, Spohr at last lets his hair down, but the work as a whole is too disparate to make for a successful symphony.

More satisfying is the C minor Symphony No. 3, which has an attractive slow movement, and a scherzo and trio that are woven together with considerable ingenuity.  The slow introduction to the Overture from the oratorio The Fall of Babylon is impressive, too, though the following Allegro is rather vapid. 

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Howard Shelley’s performances are decent enough, if a touch under-characterised: this is music that needs stronger advocacy, and greater dramatic intensity, if it’s to make a mark. Misha Donat