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Mendelssohn, Janáček, Schumann: Sonatas for Violin and Piano - Lamsma, Kulek

Mendelssohn, Janáček, Schumann: Sonatas for Violin and Piano - Lamsma, Kulek

Challenge Classics  CC 72677

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Felix Mendelssohn: Sonata for Violin and Piano in F major, MWV Q26
Leos Janáček: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Robert Schumann: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D minor Op. 121

Simone Lamsma (violin)
Robert Kulek (piano)


The sonatas in this captivating recital epitomise three key stages in the history of Romanticism. Mendelssohn did more than any other composer to ensure a seamless transition between the Classicism of Haydn and Mozart and the lyrical expansiveness of a new era. His 1838 Sonata tantalises the senses, combining passion and brilliance with meticulously balanced precision. By the time his friend Schumann began work on his D minor Sonata just 13 years later, the Romantic era was in full swing, and his lifelong exploration of alternative dreamworlds had begun to affect his own ability to keep a firm hold on reality.

Janáček’s Sonata was composed on the eve of the First World War at a time when the old social order and the Romantic dream were on the point of extinction, reflected in a multi-faceted score of searing emotional intensity and often startling changeability. Mendelssohn was one of the great musical polymaths of the 19th century. There was seemingly nothing he could not turn his hand to with equal success, from philosophy, linguistics and swimming to water colours, poetry and gymnastics, yet it was above all music that activated his insatiable genius. In addition to his almost unparalleled achievements as a boyhood composer and pianist, he was also an outstanding violinist and violist. ‘He never touched a string instrument the whole year round,’ recalled fellow composer-conductor Ferdinand Hiller (1811–1885), ‘but if he wanted to he could do it, as he could most other things.’ Yet in later life, with many other commitments sapping away at his energies, the violin only came out of its case when Felix was called upon to fill out domestic chamber ensembles as the need arose.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - October 6, 2015

We have here the debut recording of the Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma. One doesn’t need to listen long to become totally convinced that we have here another top class violinist from The Netherlands.

Many in the USA may already be familiar with this new talent after her so very successful tour in Northern America. With an impressive repertoire of over 60 violin concertos she outshines, on this score alone, already a large number of her confirmed colleagues. My only worry is that she, with a heavy schedule of concerts and chamber commitments all over the globe, including China and New Zealand, may run into a burn-out, as happened with other promising talents in the past.

The recital proposed on this disc is an interesting one, although some might have wished that one of the two romantic pieces would have been replaced by one of another era, like for instance a classical or an even more contemporary work, in order to cover the extent of her repertoire. This said I would not want to be without her interpretation of either of the two romantic sonatas.

To begin with Mendelssohn: The one she performs on this disk went unpublished until it was rediscovered by Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950’s. It is one of the two seldom performed, let alone recorded sonatas, written in Mendelssohn’s more mature part of his short life; the other one being a youth work composed at the age of 14. It’s a shame, really, because both are of exceptional beauty.

Comparing Lamsma with Shlomo Mintz’s outstanding account, recorded in 1986 on DGG, at a similar stage in his career, I found Simone more secure and with a firmer, yet romantically expressive tone. Most strikingly perhaps: Her refraining from excessive vibrato, as so often applied by others to enhance a sense of romanticism.

In late-romantic Janáček, Lamsma captures the essence of his famous and groundbreaking 1914 violin sonata with great energy and gripping precision, conveying an almost sinisterly bewitching combination of singing folk elements and disturbing reality. Her partner, Robert Kulek, provides the solid base of a perfect interplay between violin and piano, making the listener an accomplice in an ominous feeling as expressed by Janáček himself: “I could just about hear sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head...". An absolutely thrilling and passionately chilling performance!

Schumann brings us back to more comfortable grounds. In comparison with Ulf Wallin (BIS SACD), which, albeit upon repeated listening, I liked very much, Lamsma’s bold reading of his second sonata, with a pure and appealingly restrained romantic approach, wins for me the day. Here, too, the partnership with Kulak is exemplary, like lovers going hand in hand. Symbolically speaking, that is.

For the High Resolution community the sound is of as much importance as the musical content. In this respect Challenge Classics let no wish unanswered: Superior sound is guaranteed. Steven Maes for Serendipitous has done an excellent job, as he did last year for the Beethoven violin sonatas with Isabelle van Keulen and Hannes Minnaar (Challenge Classics CC 72650).

All in all and outstanding recording debut, which you can safely and confidently buy and listen to with your eyes closed and your ears wide open! As the French say: “Elle joue déjà dans la cour des grands”. I’m looking forward to more of the same.

Simone plays the "Mlynarski" Stradivarius (1718), on generous loan to her by an anonymous benefactor.

Blangy le Château
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2015 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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