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Robert Maxham
Fanfare, July 2009

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 (, 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) nor Hilary Hahn (Deutsche Grammophon 000718802) 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 misterioso 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 Gesangszene, 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.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, May 2009

Simone Lamsma’s ringing tone seems more appropriate in bravado passages, and she really plays the closing section of the Gesangszene to the hilt…but there’s no question her bright sound is better suited to these sun-drenched Spanish rhythms. In the Gesangszene finale she seems to be having more fun…The Finnish players give a good account of themselves…and sonics…are nicely detailed and overall quite satisfying.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2009

Young violinist Simone Lamsma brings to these early romantic concertos a sweet tone combined with great dexterity and perfect pitch. The orchestra as well sounds like a very worthy ensemble, comparable to any before the public. What I find rather disappointing, however, is that in these works that often call for a bold and extroverted manner of playing, the violin solo is instead rather timid, perhaps under-recorded.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

Louis Spohr was admitted to the court orchestra while still a teenager, and was to become the most famous German violinist of his time, legend claiming that he trained over two hundred violinists, composers and conductors. As a composer Spohr had the misfortune of working at exactly the same time as Beethoven, and though his early works received much acclaim, they had fallen from fashion long before his death in 1859. His catalogue of works was enormous, and included many operas, nine symphonies, fifteen violin concertos, and a veritable deluge of chamber music. I think many musical commentators forget that Spohr’s Violin Concertos were highly attractive and included an element of Paganini’s outgoing virtuosity. Central movements are lyrical and overtly beautiful, with the technical pyrotechnics in the outer movements more integrated into the music than Paganini was to achieve. The three concertos here span the years 1816 to 1825, and point to the fact that, unlike Beethoven, Spohr’s style never developed. Yet hear these persuasive performances and you will regret their absence in the concert hall. The soloist is the young Dutch violinist, Simone Lamsma, who was educated and has built her career in the UK. She is ideal for Spohr, her ability to brush aside the difficulties removing any sense of strain and allows the lyric aspects to blossom. A fast vibrato, much in the French style and reflecting her famous mentor, Maurice Hasson, she here draws a honey tone from a gorgeous 1709 Carlo Tononi violin, the engineers capturing its beauty. Attentive and well balanced accompaniment comes from the Sinfonia Finlandia with their conductor, Patrick Gallois.

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