I received a complimentary copy of this CD for consideration. I agreed to give it a listen and review it.
This is a no-frills, independent release produced by BRC Audio Productions. There are no liner notes and it offers a very short playing time of just 40 minutes. But the music is what's important, and I enjoyed listening to this recording - for the most part.
The Midwest Chamber Ensemble, under the direction of its conductor, Steve Lewis, sounds to be an accomplished, semi-professional group of musicians who enjoy playing together. Their reading of Spohr's delightful Nonet is sunny and relaxed, with a pronounced pastoral, yet joyful feel. Slowish tempos predominate all 4 movements. This works better in the opening Allegro and the Adagio (which thankfully does not sag), than it does in the Scherzo and final Vivace, where a little more momentum and sheer verve would have been most welcomed.
The woodwind players in particular are excellent. They play with wonderful musicality and vibrant, colorful tone. It's a pity the violinist isn't quite as accomplished. There are several exposed violin passages which sound rather insecure, with some less than perfect intonation. I suspect this may have dictated the somewhat slower tempos being adopted. However, this is not detrimental to the overall performance and I still enjoyed it enough to listen a second time.
The Octet, unfortunately, is another matter. It is curious that only one movement was included (the opening Adagio-Allegro), as the entire work would have easily fit on the disc. Many of the players employed here differ from those in the Nonet, and it clearly is a less accomplished group. This sounds rather like a local, community group and could have used a good deal more rehearsal. I frankly would have omitted to altogether.
The recording quality throughout is excellent. BRC Audio Productions captures the hall acoustics beautifully, with a pleasing warmth and plenty of detail. The laid back perspective compliments the sunny, relaxed approach.
All in all I am glad to have heard this performance of the Nonet - recordings of it are far from abundant. My favorite comes from the Vienna Octet, included on an absolutely splendid 2-disc, 2010 Eloquence set. It is better played (as to be expected), with fresher tempos in all 4 movements, infusing it with life. However, for a more thoughtful, relaxed view, this one from the Midwest Chamber Ensemble brings pleasure.