BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 – Ida Haendel, violin/Stuttgart Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Hans Mueller-Kray – Hanssler Classic

by | Aug 7, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 – Ida Haendel, violin/Stuttgart Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Hans Mueller-Kray

Hanssler Classic CD 94.202, 67:24 [Distr. By Allegro] ****:

Historic performances from the archives of the Southwest German Radio, featuring Polish-born virtuoso Ida Haendel (b. 1928) in strong readings of the Brahms Concerto (20 September 1955) and the Mendelssohn Concerto (10 January 1953) with the competent Hans Mueller-Kray (1908-1969) make for compelling listening. Playing her 1699 Stradivarius with particular zeal, Haendel literally barges into the opening flourishes of the Brahms Concerto with gutsy abandon, only to yield to heart-rendering pathos in the lyrical sequences with strings and French horn, alternately rasping and purring the themes with a flamboyant nobility of line. Mueller-Kray, who led the Southwest German Radio Orchestra from 1948, adds his own colors to the vital mix, emphasizing a flute or oboe part, driving the stretti for optimum clarity of effect, and hustling to the cadence before the first movement cadenza. Haendel plays a cadenza that eclectically combines elements of Kreisler, Joachim, and Heifetz, embellished with sudden modulations and presto riffs. Her soaring cantilena and lofty trill take us to the woodwind and string orchestral support, a mysterious moment that floats in the stratosphere before it settles, via the French horn, into the fateful coda.

Principal oboe, flute, and French horn bask in their colors prior to Handel’s entry in the Adagio, taken at a deliberately expansive tempo, an F Major song of infinite sentiment. Haendel leans into the phrases, fulfilling her observation that Brahms projects both “great femininity and masculine power” in his inspiration. We feel a potent sympathy in Haendel’s conception, a carefully etched lyric that never falters in its resigned, tragic intensity. Haendel exploits the “gypsy” element in the final Hungarian Rondo in D, savoring the quick double stops, spiccati, sudden accelerations, and wide stretches that make the music viscerally exciting. The orchestral tissue becomes quite animated, a bit frenzied, giving Brahms that touch of musical madness his otherwise conservative disposition requires to catch divine fire. Once the four-note “fate” rhythm enters, the martial and bravura assume their own heat, blazing to an inexorable huge finale – Haendel’s speed able to accommodate every note with perfect razory accuracy.

The Mendelssohn enjoys Haendel’s sweet tone, its ethos light and colorful. The attack is eager, swift, the phrases hustle by without sentimentality, almost impatiently until the big melody on the G string. Mueller-Kray slows the tempo down over Haendel’s long notes, and then Haendel allows the pace to relent, cantabile. Haendel pushes the cadenza hard, moving in fiery eighth notes, eighth-triplets, then sixteenths. She then ricochets in rasping style while the orchestra invokes the main melody. Haendel takes the E Major version of the sweet theme in G even more tenderly the second time around. The “Presto” section flies by, almost a blur, to the chromatic statement of the theme in its original though incendiary E Minor. The long B of the bassoon takes us up a semitone into the delicate world of the C Major Andante, a poignant song without words in ternary form. The A Minor episode proves just as wrenching and darkly throbbing, the violin in passing tremolos and double-notes. Little wonder Joachim called this concerto the most intimate of all German violin concertos, “the heart’s jewel.” After fourteen bars of solo violin and strings, the trumpet fanfare announces the E Major Allegro molto vivace, which Haendel plies with her accustomed light dexterity and rather swashbuckling effects. A series of B Major runs take us into the martial statement of the secondary theme, the incidental music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream not so far away. Haendel develops the rondo into a G Major episode over a counter theme, and then off again into the daintily tripping main tune. Her big trills with woodwind accompaniment vibrantly slide down the scale to enter a furious coda that brings this bravura realization to a splendid conclusion. This performance from 1953 occurred at that same fateful time when Haendel’s meeting with conductor Sergiu Celibidache changed her musical outlook from then on.

— Gary Lemco

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