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Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Op. 28 [9:47]1
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie Espagnole Op. 21: III Intermezzo (Allegro non troppo) [6:42]
(arr. solo violin: Ida Haendel)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance No. 1 [3:28]1
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Polonaise Brillante No. 1 in D major Op. 4 [5:29]1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin in D minor BWV 1004: Chaconne [18:02]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen Op.20 (8:41)2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat KV378/317d (17:29)2
Ida Haendel (violin)
Yukari Arai1, Walter Delahunt2 (piano)
rec. 24 and 28 April 2008, Sound City Studio A, Azabu, Tokyo
RCA RED SEAL 88883 744502 [69:59]

Although just newly released, this studio recording dates back to 2008 when Ida Haendel was just several months short of her eightieth birthday. In the booklet notes, the dispute surrounding the actual year of her birth is rectified, it is 1928, not 1923. She elaborates. In 1937 Harold Holt, who was her agent, wanted to present her as a prodigy in a Sunday afternoon concert at Covent Garden (London). The conductor on this occasion was to be Thomas Beecham. Unfortunately, the rules stipulated that no child under fourteen could appear. Holt, together with her father, hatched a plan to get around this by altering her birth date to 1923. This date has erroneously been attributed to her subsequently by some.
She was born in Chelm, Poland, and took up the violin at the age of three, inspired by her father who was an amateur fiddle player. She later studied with Carl Flesch, whose list of other famous pupils includes Henryk Szeryng, Ginette Neveu, Josef Hassid, 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.
The centre of gravity and focus of this recital is the Chaconne by Bach. Haendel’s performance is technically secure and granite-like in its delivery. Aside from a few intonation problems and minor finger slips this is a deeply expressive performance, monumental in its conception. I have always rated Haendel’s Bach very highly, and her survey of the complete Sonatas and Partitas recorded on the Testament Label (SBT 2090) is among the traversals I cherish the most. She certainly lives up to my expectations here. The other work for solo violin is her own arrangement of the Intermezzo from Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, given with great improvisatory flair.
The Mozart Sonata on offer is the B flat KV378/317d, played with finesse, grace and charm. Perhaps the performance is not as fluent as that from Montreal in 1968, but here it is in much better sound, not suffering the live broadcast’s sonic flaws (Doremi DHR7726). The Saint-Saens, another substantial work, is a little on the cautious side with regard to tempo. Whilst the staccato runs at 3:09 are no longer as cleanly incisive as they once were, the treacherous spiccato passage at 9:06 is well negotiated and crisply articulated.
Listening to the Sarasate , I forgot for one moment that I was hearing an eighty year old lady. Zigeunerweisen is exquisite, with a beautifully phrased and expressive slow section and a fast section showcasing a still remarkable technique. I did feel, however, that the Wieniawski Polonaise did tax her to the limit, and I detected some strain in some of the double-stop passages. Be that as it may, the work I really enjoyed and confess to keep listening to is the Brahms Hungarian Dance. It is a perfect gem, capturing all its nuance and swagger. I could not imagine it given a finer outing.
It is an established fact that a violinist’s longevity is shorter than that of the pianist, by the very nature of the instrument and the way the sound is produced. To maintain a technique on the violin at the age of eighty is nothing short of miraculous. Nathan Milstein similarly sustained a career well into his eighties. Yet, to put it in perspective, Haendel’s playing here in no way attains the level reached in her prime. Nevertheless, many of the attributes that distinguished her earlier playing are evident. There is the beautiful, rich tone, and the level of musicianship, especially in such a work as the Bach Chaconne. Also present is the myriad spectrum of colour, which has always been an outstanding feature of her playing.
This is a superb achievement, and collectors and followers of Haendel’s career will want these recordings. The two pianists offer sensitive support. The studio technicians have done a first-class job in achieving a remarkably good balance between violin and piano. Colin Anderson’s notes are informative, and I can only reiterate their sentiments “Great Lady, Great Violinist’.
Stephen Greenbank