Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: No. 6 in g; No. 8 in a,
“In modo di scena cantante”;
No. 11 in G
Simone Lamsma (vn); Patrick Gallois, cond; Snf Finlandia Jyväskylä
NAXOS 8.570528 (70:18)
Louis Spohr, once considered to hold a place among the greatest composers of his era, subsequently fell into a gray oblivion, only to be resurrected several times during the 20th century. Although his compositional output might have been more encompassing than
those of many of his fellow violinist-composers, he may for practical purposes remain in contention principally for the honor of being one of the greatest of
rather than one of the greatest of composers in general.
Ulf Hoelscher, Christian Fröhlich, and the Sinfonie-orchester Berlin made a survey on cpo of Spohr’s concertos, and now perhaps Naxos has undertaken to do so as well. Simone Lamsma brings together Concerto No. 6 with two others, Nos. 8 and 11, that the booklet notes by Keith Warsop, chairman of the Spohr Society of Great Britain (www.spohr-society.org.uk), identifies as among the composer’s four masterpieces in the genre: the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and 11th. (Warsop contends that violinists play only the Eighth nowadays, but only a generation or two ago, the perhaps even more imposing Ninth still held the stage, if not alongside it, then close behind.)
The Sixth Concerto’s first movement contains some of the mystery and drama that set Spohr apart from earlier violinist-composers like Viotti, to whose idiomatic violinistic passagework he lent a personal vibrancy and chromatic melancholy that set it above mere gymnastics. The slow movement, as the opening movement and finale of the Eighth would do, incorporates recitative, while the finale, Alla spagnola, sets actual Spanish melodies that, according to Warsop, Spohr heard sung by a soldier in the Napoleonic wars against a strummed background. Simone Lamsma plays Spohr with authority—with technical aplomb and a silken, slender sound that recall Heifetz’s. She sparkles in the higher registers (on her 1709 Tononi—remember that Heifetz played a Tononi early on) and sounds throaty in the lower ones: such unobtrusive muscularity, coupled with silvery violinistic solidity, makes her a credible exponent of Spohr’s music. The recorded sound sets her in the midst of the orchestral sound rather than aggressively in front of it.
The Eighth Concerto, written for Italian audiences, depends more heavily on Italianate forms and procedures. It’s soaring aria-like slow movement, its showy finale, and, most of all, its extended first movement recitative—all three encrusted with breathtaking ornamentation—provide a violinist with an ideal showcase. Heifetz, like Ethel Merman, could belt a tune in a way that defied audiences not to listen, and he played this Concerto, cutting down the tuttis, as he often did, with irresistible authority. Spohr denigrated Paganini’s manner of producing staccato off the string, and though Heifetz’s flying staccato, which he claimed to have had difficulty mastering, became one of his trademarks, he could electrify audiences with Spohr’s more solid staccatos on the string, so many passages of which adorn this Concerto. Albert Spalding’s recording of the work appealed to many who may have considered Heifetz’s a bit over the top, but it’s hardly as visceral; and, more recently, neither Uto Ughi (Dynamic 522, 31:1) nor Hilary Hahn (Deutsche Grammophon 000718802, 30:3) could recreate that magic. Though not nearly as confident as Heifetz, Lamsma still generates high voltage in, for example, the slow movement’s fast episode, and she plays with congenial sensitivity in the Adagio’s main sections. And unlike Heifetz, who succumbed to the temptation to add thirds to the last movement’s passages (as his teacher, Auer, did in Tchaikovsky’s cadenza to his Violin Concerto), she makes a case for it even while playing it straight. The Sixth Concerto’s
returns enhanced in the 11th, which begins with an Adagio introduction that, if it’s not the Wolf’s Glen scene, may be the closest thing violinists have, and that introduces a main theme that postures squarely but stylishly as do some of Schumann’s melodic ideas. Warsop suggests that this Concerto might profitably be revived; it’s lucky that a sympathetic violinist like Lamsma has done so. Here’s a worthy counterpart to Bruch’s concertos (listeners might notice a similarity between the style of writing for the violin in Spohr’s concertos and in the first movement of Bruch’s Third) and a worthy champion. Listeners and would-be aficionados of Spohr may still find it a sort of stumbling block to full admiration that so many of Spohr’s harmonic turns and violinistic passages sound all too familiar—the 11th Concerto’s finale, for example, suggests, however obliquely, the Duo, op. 67/2. Violinist-composers have a notoriously hard time not following their fingers’ lead.
Naxos’s program of Spohr concertos deserves a hearing for the young soloist’s’ bravado tempered with sensibility as well as for the orchestra’s generally sympathetic and competent accompaniment. But above all, it stands out for its version of the once famous
, as it’s often called, perhaps the best after Heifetz’s—and, with Lamsma’s personal approach, a creditable alternative. Many violinists don’t have a sufficiently strong personality to project Spohr’s; Lamsma already does. An urgently recommended Want List candidate.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Violin Concerto no 6: I. Allegro
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