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Ida Haendel (violin) - Prague Recordings: 1957-65
Alfred Holeček (piano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Václav Smetáček
Full contents listings at end of review
SUPRAPHON SU41622 [5 CDs: 390:34]

It is remarkable that Ida Haendel has maintained an eight-decade career and at the age of eight-five, in 2013, she was still taking master-classes in London. Last year I reviewed a release of a recital she gave just months short of her eightieth birthday and was amazed by the state of her technique.

The present 5-CD set has just been released and documents Haendel’s connection with this great city. The compilation includes all the recordings she made on her infrequent visits to Prague, both live and studio. The majority of the ‘live’ airings were produced by Czech Radio and are here appearing on CD for the first time. Several have been released previously, so Haendel collectors may stumble across some duplications. However, one thing is certain, this set is of documentary value in showcasing this great lady at her peak.

A child prodigy, Haendel was born in Chelm, Poland. She took up the violin at the age of three, inspired by her father who was an amateur fiddle player. At four she went on to study with Miecyzsław Michalowicz at the Warsaw Conservatory, winning a gold medal at ten. She later studied with Carl Flesch, whose famous pupils include Henryk Szeryng, Ginette Neveu, Szymon Goldberg and Ivry Gitlis. Later, she had the good fortune to be mentored by George Enescu, whose name is closely associated with Yehudi Menuhin. In 1935 she won a prize at the first Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw. Since that time she has sustained a high profile international career.

To the first CD is assigned shorter pieces for violin and piano, all accompanied by Alfred Holeček. Haendel draws a big full-bodied tone in the Kreisler Preludium and the Paganini Moses Fantasy. The ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata opens with elegance and charm with the trills in the second movement rhythmically pointed. Kroll’s Banjo and Fiddle calls to mind Michael Rabin’s compelling recording for its dash and bravura. The Brahms and Bartók pieces are suavely nuanced and imbued with a gypsy flavour.

The live Beethoven sonatas are all first-time CD releases, the Op. 30s being from 1957 and the Kreutzer taped five years later in 1962. Each is partnered by Alfred Holeček, who is a very responsive collaborator. The piano in no way assumes a passive role, this is most certainly a partnership of equals, with both performers acquitting themselves with distinction. There is drama and energy in the first movement of Op. 30 no. 2. The sublime slow movement is imbued with a wistful and nostalgic aroma and the Scherzo is spiky and capricious. The Kreutzer is magisterial and played with intelligence and authority. It is the G major Op. 30 no. 3 which disappoints, with first movement phrases sounding clipped. The recording engineers have achieved an ideal balance between the instruments in both venues. Applause is retained, which positively adds to the live atmosphere.

It is a novelty to hear the Beethoven Romances with piano accompaniment. I have always admired these pieces for their simplicity and melodic invention. Haendel delivers expressive and eloquent accounts, but the F major begins a little too slow and, on the whole, sounds rather self-conscious. The Stravinsky Concerto is a welcome addition to her discography, as Haendel never recorded this work commercially. This is a little scrappy ensemble-wise in parts, but this a minor drawback. The Tzigane is dispatched with imagination and flair.

Supraphon have already issued the Beethoven and Sibelius concertos, recorded live in concert in October 1957 on a single CD in 2010. Both concertos were recorded commercially by Haendel, the Beethoven with Kubelik and the Sibelius with Berglund. Testament have issued a live Sibelius, paired with the Elgar Concerto with the CBSO under Rattle (SBT 1444). The Sibelius Concerto was almost a calling card for Haendel, featuring prominently throughout her career. Indeed, the composer himself praised her on her rendition of his concerto. It is poignant, and a great tribute to Sibelius that this 1957 concert took place only a month after his death. I do prefer these live takes in preference to the studio recordings. There is much more spontaneity, passion and fire, with the violinist responding to the presence of an audience and the inspiration of the live event. Karel Ančerl shows himself a supportive partner, sensitive to the nuances of the violin. I haven’t heard the live Sibelius with Rattle on Testament to compare.

I’ve always loved Haendel’s Symphonie Espagnole, considering it the finest in the catalogue. It is gripping and highly-charged stuff. She seems to me fully inside this music radiating a tone of burning intensity. Ančerl offers an alert accompaniment. In the Glazunov she brings to the score a wealth of tonal colour. The Wieniawski is a virtuoso tour de force and in the third movement, whilst she doesn’t quite match Heifetz’s quicksilver dexterity, there’s some sparkling fingerwork.

Supraphon have produced an extremely attractive package. Booklet notes are in English, German, French and Czech. Sound quality throughout is top-notch. As I have said, there are some duplications, but this should not deter prospective buyers from taking the plunge, for the terrific playing on offer.

Stephen Greenbank
Masterwork Index: Beethoven concerto ~~ Sibelius concerto

Full Contents Listing

CD 1 [79:37]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Preludium and Allegro for Violin and Piano [5:39] (7)
Giuseppe TARTINI (1662-1770)
Sonata in G minor ‘Trillo del Diavolo’ for Violin and Piano [15:16] (7)
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Mose Fantasia. Variations on the G string on the theme by Rossini [5:43] (7)
William KROLL (1901-1980)
Banjo and Fiddle [3:03] (7)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Habanera (Vocalise-étude en forme de Habanera) [2:57] (7)
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen, Op.20 No.1 [8:28] (7)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) ARR. Fritz KREISLER
Hungarian Dance No.17 [4:19] (7)
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1954) arr. Zoltán SZÉKELY
6 Romanian Folk Dances, Sz.56 (first time on CD) [6:29] (1)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Saltarello (from the Symphony No.4, arr. for violin and piano) (first time on CD) [4:58] (1)
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Mythes. Three Poèmes for Violin and Piano, Op.30 (first time on CD) (4)
I. La fontaine d´Aréthuse [5:25]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) arr. Samuel DUSHKIN
Divertimento (from Le baiser de la fée, arr. for violin and piano) [1637] (6)

CD 2 [76:13]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No.7 in C minor for Violin and Piano, Op.30 No.2 (first time on CD) [28:02] (3)
Sonata No.8 in G major for Violin and Piano, Op.30 No.3 (first time on CD) [15:12] (3)
Sonata No.9 in A major ‘Kreutzer’ for Violin and Piano, Op.47 (first time on CD) [31:00] (4)

CD 3 [82:04]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Romance in G major for Violin and Piano, Op.40 (first time on CD) [7:48] (3)
Romance in F major for Violin and Piano, Op.50 (first time on CD) [10:28] (3)
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Scherzo – Tarantelle, Op.16 [4:36] (7)
Mazurka – Obertass, Op.19 No.1 (first time on CD) [1:59] (1)
Polonaise de Concert in D major, Op.4 (first time on CD) [4:34] (4)
Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano, Sz76 (first time on CD) [21:04] (4)
Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra (first time on CD) [20:11] (5)
Maurice RAVEL
Tzigane. Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra [10:52] (8)

CD 4 [76:43]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op.61 [43:18] (2)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.47 (1903) [32:30] (2)

CD 5 [75:57]
Édouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op.21 [32:40] (8)
Alexandre GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Concerto in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.82 [20:23] (10)
Concerto No.2 in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.22 [22:39] (9)

rec. live Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, 7 January 1957 (1)
18 October 1957 (2)
1 October 1960 (3)
Prague Spring International Music Festival at the Rudolfinum
15 May 1962 (4)
Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, 13 May 1962 (5)
rec. studio Domovina Studio,Prague 24 October 1957 (6)
10-11 May 1962 (7)
Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, 25-27 March 1964 (8)
29 March 1965 (9)
1-2 April 1965 (10)