Ida Haendel – Prague Recordings 1957-1965 = Supraphon (5 CDs)

Ida Haendel – Prague Recordings 1957-1965 = BARTOK: Violin Sonata No. 2; Romanian Folk Dances; BEETHOVEN: Romance No. 1 in G Major, Op. 40; Romance No. 2 in F Major, Op. 50; Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; Violin Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30, No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 3; Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”; BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 17; GLAZOUNOV: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82; KREISLER: Praeludium and Allegro; KROLL: Banjo and Fiddle; LALO: Symphonie espagnole; MENDELSSOHN: Saltarello; PAGANINI: Mose Fantasia; RAVEL: Tzigane; Habanera; SARASATE: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20, No. 1; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47; STRAVINSKY: Violin Concerto in D; Divertimento; SZYMANOWSKI: La fontaine d’Arethuse, Op. 30, No. 1; TARTINI: “Devil’s Trill” Sonata; WIENIAWSKI: Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16; Obertas, Op. 19, No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22 – Ida Haendel, violin/ Alfred Holecek, piano/ Czech Philharmonic Orch./ Karel Ancerl/ Prague Sym. Orch./ Vaclav Smetacek (Glazounov, Wieniawski) – Supraphon SU 4162-2 (5 CDs), TT: 6:30:24 (8/12/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:         

In an interview with me in Atlanta, master violinist Ida Haendel (b. 1928) made it perfectly clear why she had received the Warsaw Conservatory Medal at age five and the Huberman Prize for her performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto at age seven: reincarnation! A firm believer that she has been reborn from some ancient musical prodigy, Haendel even at age eighty-six continues to perform and teach as though assured of yet further avatars. With her golden-throated Stradivarius and her naturally dynamic, Polish-gypsy approach to music of every genre and musical period, she has virtually redefined “charisma” and “individuality” for the violinists’ universe. This Supraphon sets pays tribute to her long association with Prague and Czech musical life, which began in 1957.

From the outset of the Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro, as assisted by the able Alfred Holecek, we succumb to the mighty throes of veritable master of her instrument, armed with piercing intonation and romantically broad vibrato.  The Beethoven Romances both make their debut on CD; and although we miss the orchestral colors, the piano accompaniment proves most accommodating.  The F Major receives a slow but poignant reading. The fiery works – by Wieniawski, Paganini, Sarasate, Bartok, and Hubay – enjoy Haendel’s natural “gypsy” approach, slashing, acerbic and eminently passionate.  The Tartini “Devil’s Trill” Sonata makes for a fascinating combination of subjective fire and Baroque elegance, much in the Milstein tradition. So, too, the readings of the two Stravinsky works exhibit classical lyricism and pungent irony, at once.
The phenomenon of Ida Haendel’s playing Slavic or “ethnic” music of any kind stands in a class by itself, and so her patented Sibelius Concerto, Glazounov Concerto, Wieniawski D Minor Concerto, and Lalo Symphonie espagnole – in its original five-movement version – each testifies to a virtuosity, intensity, and versatility of musical styles.

Conductors Karel Ancerl (1908-1973) and Vaclav Smetacek (1906-1986) contribute the orchestral part with all the fervor their Czech Philharmonic and Prague Symphony can muster, and a bravura showpiece like Ravel’s Tzigane – throaty like Francescatti and ablaze like Heifetzstops you in your tracks. The unusual “treat” for this reviewer became the live Beethoven Concerto (1 October 1960), which I had not heard Haendel perform prior. Conductor Ancerl provides an unusually sumptuous orchestral tutti prior to Haendel’s series of half-step figures for her first movement entry, which soon evolves into a flowing, miraculously collaboration of lofty ideals. The Joachim cadenza adds to the exalted lyricism of the performance, a blend of mass and song that rivals my preferred performances by Schneiderhahn and Furtwaengler, Grumiaux and Beinum. The Sibelius Concerto becomes incendiary from the moment of Haendel’s opening cadenza, and the combination of (Northern) lyricism and muscular drama never ceases. Haendel’s control and graduation of nuance extends well into her flute tone and harmonics, weaving an inexhaustible volcano of seething emotions. Ancerl has become quite infected by her staggering dynamism, and so the whole catapults us into this polar witches’ cauldron.

The rarest performances of the Haendel legacy derive from her Beethoven set of Violin Sonatas Nos. 7-9, of which the C Minor Sonata  and G Major Sonata each receive its first CD incarnation. The pacing and degree of alert intensity, palpable and emanating from each musician, Haendel and Holecek, proves mesmerizing. If the C Minor ripples with dramatic portent and melancholy nostlagia, the G Major wins back its old epithet “the champagne sonata,” for its light but affectionate ethos. The Kreutzer performance justifies the entire price of admission: with a religious fervor, Haendel intones the opening Adagio sostenuto, and then Medea’s fire burns and consumes us all, gratefully. If the Andante con variazione seems to relent in intensity, it is mere illusion. The pensive drama remains fixated and committed to a preconceived end. The Finale: Presto which ends Disc 2 has evoked in sum all of those passionate and oft-tormented emotions Tolstoy admired and feared in his literary masterpiece.

—Gary Lemco

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