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Ida Haendel (violin)
The SWR Recordings
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Muller-Kray
rec. 1953-1967
SWR CLASSIC SWR19427CD [3 CDs: 210:02]

These recordings, amongst the most valuable aural documents housed in Southwest German Radio archive, were set down between 1953 and 1967. All mainstream repertoire, they’ve previously been available on separate discs. For those who missed them first time around, like myself, it’s a pleasure to see them gathered together in one convenient 3 CD set. The conductor in all the performances is Hans Müller-Kray, then chief conductor of the SWR (SDR at the time). All the recordings here were taped at one of two venues in Stuttgart - the Sendesaal Villa and the Liederhalle.

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. Her legend was phenomenal, and in later life she was hailed as the grande dame of the violin. Aside from her concertizing, which lasted seventy years after her debut, she served as a jury member at competitions and gave masterclasses well into old age.

The Brahms Concerto held a significant place in the violinist’s repertoire from childhood. Her recording from 1953 of the Concerto with Celibidache has gained legendary status. This radio recording came two years later in 1955. The orchestral sound is rather dated and the definition muddied for the most part. Having said that, Haendel’s contribution is dramatic and intense, with the lyrical sections beautifully shaped. I much prefer the overall sound of the Mendelssohn Concerto from 1953. There’s a greater sense of presence, and Müller-Kray seems more engaged. The first movement is briskly paced, but it works well. In the finale, Haendel plays with elfin-like delicacy.

Tchaikovsky’s Concerto featured prominently in the Haendel discography, with a commercial recording from 1946 with Basil Cameron and another from 1953 with Sir Eugene Goosens. This performance from 1960 for South German Radio ticks all the right boxes. It’s a strongly argued account, virile and intense. The slow movement is melancholic and reflective, with the finale delivered with scintillating élan, rhythmic drive and technical brilliance. Müller-Kray provides admirable support. The sound quality and balance is excellent. Five years later the Dvorák Concerto was taped and is in equally superb sound. The lyrical moments in the opener are caressed and have a sense of longing. The slow movement is fervent without sounding sentimental. The Finale is rhythmically charged, and suffused with Czech flavour.

The Khachaturian and Bartók Concerto performances date from 1962 and 1967 respectively.
Haendel really lets the sparks fly in the Khachaturian. The animated outer movements charm with Armenian exoticism and are propelled with energy and drive. The slow movement is eloquently contoured. Haendel’s muscular, burnished tone is ideally suited for the Bartók. Her expressive phrasing emphasizes the rhapsodic nature of the work. Sound quality is good in both concertos and a perfect balance struck between soloist and orchestra.

For good remastering, yet variable sound, you can be assured that the performances and artistry will meet your expectations. Peter T. Köster’s excellent booklet contribution provides not only a biographical portrait of the artist, but also a reflection on Haendel’s approach to the repertoire performed. In short, this is a valuable collection, and one well-worth pondering.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [67:24]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 [41:08]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 [26:07]
CD 2 [65:11]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 [33:40]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 [31:31]
CD 3 [77:27]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto in D minor [36:32]
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2, Sz 112 [40:48]

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