Spohr Society Newsletter

Yet another recording of Spohr’s Op.103 songs with obbligato clarinet on a CD which uses that very phrase for its title, “The Obbligato Clarinet”, appropriately enough as it is released to mark the 70 th birthday of British clarinettist Colin Bradbury. This version therefore provides us with our third successive Newsletter in which we have reviewed the set though the previous record nicely placed the Spohr between two instrumental works featuring the clarinet. This new one reverts to the formula used by a number of other versions but ensures more variety than usual by including three songs for tenor Robert Murray alongside the contribution of mezzo-soprano Eirian James.

Also, alongside the familiar names which turn up in these compilations of songs with clarinet such as Schubert, Meyerbeer, Kalliwoda and Franz Lachner we find that the net has been cast wider than usual. So here is a Romanza by Mariano Obiols, a pupil of Mercadante and a director of the Barcelona Conservatoire, a song by Friedrich Kücken, who studied with Simon Sechter and Halévy, an Alpine song by Andreas Spaeth, another who composed works for Spohr’s clarinettist Hermstedt, and a Tennyson setting by Richard Walthew, a pupil of Parry and Stanford who later taught at London’s Guildhall School.

The more interpretations we hear of Spohr’s Op.103 songs, the more they rise in our estimation. We feel that no.2 “Zwiegesang” and no. 3 “Sehnsucht” must rank among Spohr’s finest vocal pieces, one light with just the right touch of sentiment, and the other probing into deeper matters. These performances are excellent; one feels that these artists have lived with the songs for some time and are alert to all their nuances. The recording balance does justice to the three parts so that Colin Bradbury is by implication featured in the title of the disc, he maintains a proper respect for his colleagues.

Of the songs by other composers, we were enchanted by Spaeth’s “Alpenlied” as well as Meyerbeer’s “Des Schäfers Lied” and the Kalliwoda. Eirian James is fully engaged in Schubert’s “Shepherd on the Rock” too, while Walthew’s “A Song of Love and Death” from 1898 adds a Brahmsian flavour to the early romanticism of the others and is a sensitive and beautiful discovery. This CD can be wholeheartedly endorsed if the programme suites though there is now such a wide choice for the Spohr songs (usually partnered by the Schubert, as here) that we hesitate to make an “editor’s choice” among them.

—Spohr Society of Great Britain