We need greater access to neglected Spohr

Nicola Lisle, The Oxford Time, 27.03.2015

German composer Louis Spohr was one of the most popular composers of his day; so much so that Gilbert mentioned him in The Mikado, with the title character singing about “Bach interwoven with Spohr and Beethoven.” But while Bach and Beethoven remained widely revered after their deaths, Spohr inexplicably sank into obscurity.


After hearing Oxford Harmonic Society’s concert of Spohr’s glorious Violin Concerto No.8 in A Minor and his choral masterpiece, The Last Judgement, I had to wonder why this composer fell out of favour and why it has taken so long for his music to be revived.


The violin concerto, which dates from 1816, was written in operatic style, without breaks between the sections, and features some wonderfully exciting passages for the soloist and sublime texturing for the orchestra.


Violinist Dima Tkachenko threw himself into the piece with immense gusto, attacking the more vigorous sections with great energy while teasing out some exquisitely beautiful sounds during the quieter moments. There was a noticeable rapport, too, between him and the orchestra, with conductor Robert Secret adding an extra layer of cohesion. The Last Judgement was one of Spohr’s most admired works during his lifetime and it is easy to see why. This deeply moving oratorio explores the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement, and the choir responded with a thoughtful and committed performance that was beautifully sustained throughout. The four soloists – soprano Susan Young, mezzo Janet Shell, tenor Sheridan Edward and bass Quentin Hayes – were uniformly excellent, although if pressed to pick a highlight I would have to say the gorgeous soprano and tenor duet, Forsake Me Not, which was truly lovely.


All credit to Oxford Harmonic Choir for reviving some of the vast output of this unjustly neglected composer.


More, please.