Monday 6 October 2014

Ivor Bolton and the Salzburger Bachchor and Mozarteumorchester Salzburg are terrific as are the soloists on a new recording of Louis Spohr’s oratorio Die Letzten Dinge from Oehms Classics

The composer, violinist and conductor, Louis Spohr (1784-1859) was born in Brunswick in the duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Germany. After time spent as a chamber musician at the Brunswick Court, he toured throughout Germany as a virtuoso violinist. Later, as Konzertmeister in Gotha he took up conducting, performing some of his own works. Operatic conducting post in Vienna and Frankfurt followed before he settled as Kapellmeister in Kassel where amongst other works, his oratorio Die Letzten Dinge was performed.

His compositions include operas, choral works, ten symphonies, fifteen violin concertos, four clarinet concertos and chamber works including thirty six string quartets and four double string quartets.

It is the oratorio Die Letzten Dinge WoO 61 (The Last Judgement),  based on biblical texts, that features on a new release from Oehms Classics with the Salzburger Bachchor and the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg conducted by Ivor Bolton with soloists Sally Matthews (soprano) , Katharine Goeldner (mezzo-soprano) , Jeremy Ovenden (tenor) and Andrew Foster-Williams (bass)  in a live recording from the Stiftung Mozarteum Großer Saal, Salzburg in June 2013.
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Die Letzten Dinge is in two parts prefaced by an overture and a sinfonia respectively.

In the Overture to Part One, Ivor Bolton and the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg bring out some fine orchestral textures and individual instrumental details in the rather subdued opening of the overture, at times very Brahmsian in feel. Schumann also floats by as the overture progresses reminding us that Spohr was very much of the 19th century. Bolton brings a lighter feel and flow as the overture moves forward, drawing fine tautness of playing from the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg.

Erster Teil (Part One) opens with Preis und Ehre ihm (Glory and honour him) As the orchestra enters there is a Mendelssohnian directness to the writing. The Salzburger Bachchor provide beautifully nuanced singing and, when soprano, Sally Matthews enters she has a rich, well rounded voice. Bass, Andrew Foster-Williams has an equally fine rich mellow voice when he joins. There are moments that we could be listening to a choral work by Mendelssohn. Foster-Williams brings much feeling to his part and there are some very attractive turns of phrase in Spohr’s choral writing.

Bass, Andrew Foster-Williams, joins for the recitative Steige herauf (Rise up), with some beautiful orchestral rubato and phrasing. When tenor, Jeremy Ovenden enters he has an agile attractive voice. Indeed, in the following aria Heilig, heilig (Holy, Holy) he brings great beauty and a quiet passion as does the choir when they enter, hushed with lovely instrumental accompaniment, exquisitely done.

Sally Matthews and Jeremy Ovenden return for the recitative Und siehe, ein Lamm, das war verwundet (And behold, the Lamb that was wounded) but it is Bolton’s sensitive orchestral contribution that adds so much with descending passages so like Mendelssohn. Sally Matthews continues with Das Lamm, das erwürget ist (The Lamb that was slain) with fine diction and beautifully phrasing.  When the choir enters they add a lovely gentle touch. Jeremy Ovenden brings the recitative Und alle Kreatur/Betet an! (And every creature/ Worship!), full of passion before the choir join adding a power to the music. The Salzburger Bachchor is certainly a fine strong choir, well blended and balanced in this fine section.

Tenor, Jeremy Ovenden, provides the opening of the recitative Und siehe, eine große Schar (And behold, a great multitude), full of intensity and soon joined for the first time by mezzo-soprano, Katharine Goeldner on the words Diese sind gekommen aus großer Trübsal (This came out of great sorrow). There are some lovely woodwind parts in this section. We are then led straight into the chorus Heil, dem Erbarmer (Salvation, the Merciful) with each soloists slowly joining to provide a fine ensemble. All of these artists pull as much drama, passion and poetry as they can from this music to bring a fine conclusion to Part I.

A buoyant Sinfonia precedes Part Two, with more fine brass and woodwind parts and a lovely, quite distinctive, central fugal section and a dramatic coda.

Zweiter Teil (Part Two) begins with the recitativo So spricht der Herr (Thus saith the Lord) with bass, Andrew Foster-Williams really excellent, rich and full of emotion, following each dramatic phrase to perfection. Bolton builds the orchestral part brilliantly with some more beautifully controlled playing. The duet for soprano and tenor, Sei mir nicht schrecklich in der Not (Be not in distress) is most attractive, with lovely little surges. The orchestral introduction to So ihr mich von ganzem Herzen suchet (Seek me with all your heart) brings a stately, full bodied feel with a fine choral contribution when they enter.

As would be expected with the aria, Die Stunde des Gerichts (The hour of judgment), there is a dramatic orchestral opening before Jeremy Ovenden joins for the short aria to which he brings much sensitivity before we are led straight into the dramatic Gefallen ist Babylon (Babylon is Fallen) pointed up with timpani as the chorus join in another fine section, leading to a fiery climax before the music quietens and the tenor enters for the last line, Es ist gescheh’n.

Soloists enter for the Quartett Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead) before the choir gently and quietly enter and the music leads to the hushed conclusion. A lovely section.

Recitative for soprano and alto, Sieh, einen neuen Himmel (Behold, a new heaven), has a lovely, gentle sway in the orchestral opening, a pastoral feel. When Sally Matthews enters she brings more emotion with Katharine Goeldner joining at the words ‘Er ist ihr Tempel und das Lamm’ (He is the temple and the Lamb). The recitative Und siehe, ich komme bald (And behold, I come soon) brings tenor, Jeremy Ovenden to which the other soloists join for the Quartett in a beautifully judged section.

The choir enters with a buoyant orchestra accompaniment for the final section Groß und wunderbarlich sind deine Werke (Great and wonderful are thy works). There is a lovely rhythmic pulse from the orchestra over which a longer line is sung by the choir. Soon the soloists join in a slower section taken up by the choir before picking up the pace for the final triumphant Alleluia and more subdued Amen.

I am very pleased to have made the acquaintance of this work that has many attractions for all its references to other influences.

It is a work worth hearing more than once, especially in such a fine performance as this. Ivor Bolton and his team are terrific and receive an excellent recording. There are informative booklet notes together with full German texts but no translations.

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