Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

: First Rhapsody, Romanian Folkdances;
: Violin Sonata No.3;
: Mythes
, Op.30
Ida Haendel (violin) & Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
DECCA 455 488-2 [60' 55"] Plus bonus CD - "Ida Haendel: the Decca Years, 1940-47" [75'09"]

New recordings from Ida Haendel are rare enough for this one to have leapt from the release sheets. Expectations are exceeded. Recorded in 1996 (a year after the long-released Testament set of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas - SBT 2090) Haendel was obviously in a glorious vein of form during this period. I'm not sure how many concerts this Polish-born virtuoso now gives (she was born in 1923), but I think it's fair to say that she has somewhat faded from contemporary view. Hopefully this issue will add new members to her many existing admirers.

She brings Szymanowski's Mythes to life with a communicative intensity that is intoxicating. Her vibrant tone, wide range of colours, variety of sound and imaginative dynamic contrasts keep the listener enthralled. These are renditions high on imagery. The Enescu (with whom she studied) is a wonderful piece saturated in folkmusic - popular culture harnessed to sophisticated structure and technique. Again Haendel has total identification with this music, presenting it with devotion, personal reference and an innate ability to phrase and colour this rich music.

In both these substantial pieces, Ashkenazy matches Haendel for commitment but cannot always accomplish the biggest gestures without recourse to over-strenuous execution, which sometimes causes clattering piano sound. Whereas Haendel soars to emotional narration, Ashkenazy strives towards to it. This may account for what I thought to be occasional imbalances in the recording. It is, on reflection, that Haendel is able to paint this music on a bigger canvas. Nevertheless, he too has the ability to bring this music alive (particularly the Mythes) and it appears these artists have developed a close rapport. If one can imagine Szymanowski's tripartite work sounding even more impressionistic than here, and the Enescu being even more darkly suggestive, this duo have achieved something wholly compelling. The big and bold effects that violinist and pianist relish are complemented by subtle and pictorial aspects. Both players certainly embrace these scores' inner-worlds but Haendel, through knowing this music longer I imagine, has more fully absorbed such interior expression. The Bartok Rhapsody (a pity No.2 isn't included) is full of fire, the folk-tunes sounded with beguiling naturalness. It's a shame that in both the Rhapsody and (particularly) the Romanian Folkdances, Ashkenazy's playing veers towards a too accompanimental role (although sympathetic as such) in response to Bartok's less demanding writing. Ashkenazy is no weak link though, he contributes much to this animated music-making which overflows with life and musicality.

Might there be more new material from Haendel? I hope so, I've always liked her sincerity, command and vividness - and I'm very grateful for her recordings of Britten's, Elgar's and Walton's Concertos. I believe Decca has a tape of Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending (with Norrington). If Norrington's VW cycle has indeed fallen victim to recording cutbacks, it would be marvellous if Decca could find a way of letting us have Haendel's Lark, which I would love to hear.

The bonus CD of Haendel's 1940s Decca recordings has 75 minutes of Beethoven, Schubert, Kreisler, Sarasate, more Szymanowski and, for comparison, a 1947 recording of Bartok's Romanian Folkdances. This is no sampler CD but one containing thirteen complete works, well transferred. 50 years on Haendel remains a remarkably fine player and this generous release deserves every success.


Colin Anderson


Colin Anderson

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