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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane for violin and orchestra (1924)
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra (1873)
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)

Concerto funèbre for violin and orchestra (1939)
Ida Haendel (violin; Ravel and Lalo)
André Gertler (violin; Hartmann)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
Recorded 1964, Rudolfinum, Prague (Ravel, Lalo); 1968 Domovina Studio, Prague (Hartmann)
SUPRAPHON SU 3677-2 011 (65.51)


This issue in Supraphon’s continuing Karel Ančerl collection contains some particularly interesting concerto performances from the 1960s.

The highlight is André Gertler in the Hartmann Concerto funèbre, a dark and eloquent piece that has come up well in this latest remastering. If the recording has a fault, it is one it shares with the two performances by the great Ida Haendel from 1964: the solo violin is placed forward in the sound perspective.

In the Hartmann Concerto Gertler passes the severe scrutiny this places upon his quality of tone but at some points, such as in the third of the four movements (e.g. 9: 1.30) the instrument has a larger than life quality which seems unnatural and disturbs the musical balance. The more fully scored passages fare best, and these show the splendid collaboration that existed between soloist and conductor, as well as the opulent playing of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Of course the strongly projected title of this music requires a performance of eloquent commitment, and that is what it gets here, not least in the final movement, an eloquent and deeply felt funeral oration (10.00) which these artists deliver with telling commitment.

Hartmann is a composer of powerfully eloquent vision and he does not flinch from darkly projected drama. His Concerto funèbre was composed during the early days of the Second World War, which he spent in Switzerland, and it is his testament to the senselessness of conflict between nations. Supraphon do a great service in bringing this fine performance before an international public.

The two French pieces have entirely different outlooks, their priority lying in the direction of entertaining the audience by means of astonishing them through the virtuosity of the violinist. The themes are both Spanish. Ravel orchestrated his single–movement Tzigane soon after he had completed the violin-and-piano original. The piece begins with a cadenza, and while Ida Haendel is held in close focus by the microphone she passes this test of her accuracy and tone quality (1: 2.15). When the orchestra appears there are some odd balances, though the overall effect is not unpleasing. Given the vintage of the recording, made nearly forty years ago, the sound is very good.

Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole is in fact a violin concerto, pure and simple: the title was intended to concentrate the listener’s mind on the Spanish nature of the music. The bold and close recording imposes this flavour immediately (2: 0.00), although there is surely more subtlety in the balancing of textures than this; not that the results are less than acceptable. By the time the Spanish rhythms and themes have made their influence tell, Haendel has delivered some commanding virtuoso playing.

Perhaps it is in the lighter sections of the middle movements (Nos. 2, 3 and 4 of 5) that the performance comes off best. Here the subtleties are experienced and the clarity of the re-mastered sound is at its most effective.

For all that this repertoire makes an unlikely combination, the playing from both soloists has real style and panache and the disc will give much satisfaction. Karel Ančerl was a skilful orchestral accompanist, among his abundant other talents.

Terry Barfoot


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