Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Romanze
Movement 3: Scherzo – Trio
Movement 4: Finale: Allegretto
For all the dizzying pyrotechnics of his violin works, Spohr’s was an essentially easy-going musical temperament. Written against the background of a minuet, the sonata’s opening Allegro moderato eschews strenuous thematic development for a succession of leisurely variants on the opening cantabile melody, interspersed with bouts of pirouetting virtuosity. The idiom may strike us as neo-Mozartian, spiced—perhaps decorated is a better word—with harmony more consistently chromatic than in Mozart. In some of Spohr’s works the chromaticism can become a cloying mannerism (Beethoven reportedly found his music ‘too rich in dissonances’). Here, though, the music retains a certain innocent freshness. But the range of modulation is enterprising, as ever with Spohr; and there is a beautiful moment in the coda where the music dips, with a sudden pianissimo, from A flat to a rich and strange F flat: a modulation to the key of the ‘flat sixth’ familiar enough in late Haydn and in Beethoven, but here exquisitely timed and placed.
Titled Romanze, the slow movement is in essence a song without words. The plaintive, faintly Schubertian outer sections, in F minor, sound like a half-echo of a folk song, while the richly textured central episode, approached via a magical side-slipping modulation, is a bel canto aria re-imagined in pianistic terms. The C minor Scherzo, with its rhythmic teasing, quickfire key shifts (the second part flirts with the remoteness of E major) and quizzical pauses, seems to pay homage to both Haydn and Beethoven. Not for the only time in the sonata, the smooth, sonorous trio suggests the textures of a string quartet. Dominated by a playful theme that refuses to settle in the home key, the finale infuses country-dance rhythms with the spirit of a caprice, not least in the bold modulatory flights of the central development.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2012