Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1848)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in F major, MWV Q26 (1838) [28:18]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1914) [17:06]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121 (1851) [32:57]
Simone Lamsma (violin)
Robert Kulek (piano)
rec. 30 March to 1 April 2015, Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, the Netherlands.

Someone somewhere may be able to correct me, but I don’t recall seeing this particular set of violin sonatas on a single release, so with Challenge Classics’ reliable qualities this is an intriguing and attractive prospect. Simone Lamsma is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning violinist who already has some fine recordings under her belt. There’s an interview from 2009 with her over on our Seen and Heard site. Pianist Robert Kulek is also very much in demand, working regularly with the likes of Augustin Hadelich and appearing on labels such as Deutsche Grammophon.

Mendelssohn’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in F major counts as reasonably early Romantic, and this duo’s warm expressiveness and deft skill is a real winner for this work – the gorgeous Adagio not overworked, and everything else hugely entertaining. Moving chronologically, you immediately hear the more searching nature of Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D minor, written when the composer was rapidly approaching his final breakdown. With appropriate stylistic sensitivity, Lamsma digs deeper while by no means hamming things up, with Kulek responding in kind, though the balance tends to favour the violin a little in terms of dynamic presence. Schumann’s restless, nervous energy is communicated vibrantly in this performance, something you can sample most immediately in the mood-swings of the second movement Sehr lebhaft. There are plenty of potential throw-away moments here and elsewhere in this sonata, but Lamsma maintains her intensity and energy throughout.

Janáček’s Sonata for Violin and Piano stands at that moment of transition between Romantic expression and the worlds of modernity already being incubated in Europe, but with his uniquely personal idiom and unconventional reference to spoken language as a creative impulse his music will always stand somewhat apart from the commonly accepted timeline of Western music. Janáček was already 60 years old by 1914 but still had yet to make his real operatic breakthrough in the Indian summer of his career. The dread of war in Europe was being felt everywhere, and there is a sense of oppressive constriction and a nervy edge throughout, even with the expressive inspiration of that Ballada second movement. Violent interjections are never far away, with the refined melodic lines of the final Adagio being brought up short by the violin, gruffly denying beauty free rein.

This is a very fine recording indeed, with a nice balance between Lamsma’s Stradivarius and the piano and a respectable amount of air around each. The SACD surround effect is a treat, but this also sounds superbly integrated in standard stereo. Comparisons can of course be made for alternative recordings of each of these works, but if the programme attracts then you can purchase with absolute confidence of rich rewards. The Schumann Second Violin Sonata recently appeared on the Navis Classics label in a recording with plenty of expressive depth and fireworks (see review). Simone Lamsma is a little harder-hitting and a touch more declamatory, though this impression is aided by a closer recorded balance. Janáček’s Violin Sonata is justifiably popular, and old favourites include Josef Suk together with Jan Panenka on the Supraphon label, which comes as close to the heart of the music as any other version I could name. Lamsma and Kulek have the advantage of a better recording and more recently tuned piano, but I’ll be hanging on to both. Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata is played here as well as I can remember hearing it anywhere, and is every bit the equal of other top-flight recordings such as that with Anne-Sophie Mutter on Deutsche Grammophon.

Dominy Clements

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