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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 [27:14]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 11/2 [16:49]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Sonata for Violin and Piano [18:28]
Fredell Lack (violin)
Leonid Hambro (piano)
The Stadium Concerts Symphony Orchestra of New York/Alexander Smallens
rec. 1949, 1953 (Mendelssohn)

For those not very familiar with the name Fredell Lack, she was an American violinist and pedagogue. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1922, her first teacher was Tosca Berger, but at the age of ten her family relocated to Houston, Texas where she studied with Josephine Boudreaux, the concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. Two years later Louis Persinger accepted her as a student. At 17, she made her professional solo debut with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, after which she won a scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York, where she continued with Persinger, graduating in 1943. She later had some input from Ivan Galamian and George Enescu. Lack and three principal string players from the Houston Symphony formed the Lyric Art Quartet in 1955 and in 1959 she took up a post as a professor at the University of Houston. She stayed with the faculty for 50 years before retiring in 2009. She died in Houston on August 20, 2017, aged 95. Her violin was the 1727 ‘Baron Deurbroucq’ Stradivari, and her bow was a François Tourte.

The first thing that stood out for me at the start of the Mendelssohn Concerto was Lack’s tense, fast and tremulous vibrato. Unvaried and uniform throughout, it confers a somewhat one-dimensional aspect to her playing. Having got that out of the way, the performance is generally engaging. The tempi of all three movements seem just right, with animated outer movements, and a beautifully expressive slow movement, where portamenti are sparing. The sparkling finale, where the sun truly shines, showcases some crisp spiccato bowing. The conductor Alexander Smallens is a responsive partner.

The Hindemith and Copland Sonatas with pianist Leonid Hambro derive from an Allegro Classics (AL 33) LP, which I possessed at one time. I’m very pleased to be reunited with this 1949 recording. It does sound rather boxy, set in a dry acoustic, but the compelling musicianship in both works more than compensates for that deficiency.

Hindemith’s Violin Sonata in D major, Op 11 No. 2 dates from 1918 and received its premiere in Frankfurt on 10 April 1920 by violinist Max Strub and pianist Eduard Zuckmayer. This late-Romantic score not only owes a debt to Reger, but was clearly influenced by Debussian impressionism. Lack and Hambro project the energy and force of the opening Lebhaft, and take a more relaxed stance in the lyrical middle movement. The attractive, dance-like finale exudes joy and exhilaration. One senses the infectious zeal of the two performers in this intelligent and vital reading.

Copland dedicated his Violin Sonata to the memory of his friend, Harry H. Dunham, who was shot down over the Pacific in 1943, the year the Sonata was finished. It’s an absolutely delightful work, of lean textures, marrying exuberance and tender reflection. The outer movements are delivered with verve and vigour, whilst the central Lento is one of warmth and stillness. Lack’s performance is every bit as fine, in my view, as Isaac Stern’s absorbing account.

Lack’s performances, especially the Hindemith and Copland make a welcome return to the catalogue. No notes are provided with this release, but for those who wish to explore further, the back tray insert indicates various websites of interest.
Stephen Greenbank

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