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Albert Sammons

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Biography

Although scarcely a celebrity outside the United Kingdom, Albert Sammons was regarded by many fellow musicians and critics as the finest violinist ever to have been produced by England. A bold, yet sensuous tone, phrasing that was both virile and freely rhapsodic, and keen musicality all met in a man whose intensity set ablaze many a solo score. In addition, Sammons was an excellent concertmaster for several prominent British orchestras, taking from the experience a mastery of ensemble and interplay. Although Yehudi Menuhin's recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with the work's composer was a justly famous one, Sammons' recording of the work from three years earlier was finer still. It was for Sammons that Frederick Delius wrote his violin concerto and Sammons premiered the work in 1919. His 1944 recording of that work, remastered and re-released by Naxos in a 2002 coupling with Elgar reveals his full dimension as an artist. Following a few basic lessons from his father and elder brother, Sammons studied briefly with two Ysaÿe students: Alfredo Fernandez and Frederick Weist-Hill. He began performing as a professional violinist at the age of 11, playing with the Earl's Court Exhibition Orchestra and soon leaving school. From the age of 15, he earned his living by performing in theater orchestras and in summers with a hotel ensemble in Harrogate. There, he performed the Mendelssohn Concerto in 1906; soon thereafter, word spread that the young man was an exceptional player. Urged to hear him at London's Waldorf Hotel in 1909, Thomas Beecham requested the final movement of the Mendelssohn piece and was stunned by the velocity with which Sammons managed the music. He offered him the second seat in his newest orchestra and soon thereafter made him the orchestra's leader. Solo performances with several other orchestras further enhanced Sammons' burgeoning reputation and in 1912, he performed Saint-Saëns' Concerto in B minor before an audience that included King George V and the composer. The New String Quartet, taking its name from Beecham's symphonic ensemble, was formed by Sammons in 1910 and, from that time forward, the violinist became as well known for his chamber performances as for his orchestral leadership. A distaste for travel abroad undoubtedly kept Sammons from becoming an international figure, but he did play some engagements in both France and Germany. With Australian pianist William Murdoch, he formed a duo sometimes joined by violist Lionel Tertis and cellist Cedric Sharpe. Elgar's Quartet and Piano Quintet were both given their first public performances in 1919 under Sammons' leadership. In addition to the Delius concerto, Sammons premiered Delius' String Quartet and Violin Sonata No. 2 (also written for him), as well as the concerti of George Dyson (1942) and E.J. Moeran (1946). The latter was recorded and represents Sammons' last appearance with an orchestra. By March of 1948, advancing Parkinson's disease had obliged him to retire from the concert stage altogether. In his final years, Sammons devoted himself to teaching at the Royal College of Music, instructing such students as Hugh Bean and Alan Loveday. A capable composer, Sammons won the Cobbet Prize for his Phantasy Quartet and wrote a number of effective encore pieces for violin and piano. A 1954 benefit given on his behalf at the Royal Albert Hall (attended by Sammons, despite his failing condition) celebrated the life's work of a unique and undeniably great artist.

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