Elgar
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61
Sibelius
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Ida Haendel (violin)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Elgar recorded on 23 February 1984 in Royal Festival Hall, London; Sibelius recorded 7 September 1993 in Royal Albert Hall, London
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT 1444
Duration: 80 minutes
Reviewed: August 2009
Anyone who heard Ida Haendel play Elgar’s Violin Concerto around the time of her recording it with Sir Adrian Boult conducting in Abbey Road sessions spread out between April 1977 and January 1978 would have been surprised at the epic, 55-minute, account that resulted, and which first appeared on an EMI LP. In London concert-performances – conducted by Andrew Davis, Bernard Haitink and John Pritchard (there was a second one with Davis when he revived Hugh Wood’s imposing Symphony) – Haendel showed a consistency of approach (and overall timing, circa 46 minutes) that made the ‘extreme’ recording all the more baffling (if fascinating), especially as it wasn’t typical of Sir Adrian either!
So, here is an invaluable supplement to Haendel’s collaboration with Boult (strictly speaking, it's 'another' one, for the 1986 account with Pritchard was issued by BBC Radio Classics); and, just to prove the point, this one with Rattle weighs-in at 46 minutes! It’s a real coup for Testament to be issuing this version (and this label also has the Boult taping on its books, SBT 1146), for it offers a souvenir as to how Haendel played this wonderful piece in the concert hall; with ardour, spark and undisguised passion, but never contrivance. And she’s on top form (the odd slippage of intonation or technical awkwardness counts for nothing). She has in Rattle a sympathetic accompanist; and if the orchestral playing is just a little self-consciously beautiful, there is an obvious and vivid rapport between soloist and conductor. For her part, Haendel essays the challenging solo part with mastery and devotion. It’s a lovely, compelling and moving performance to have alongside the studio version.
Even finer is the Sibelius; an amazing account. Her EMI recording with Paavo Berglund conducting is notable (so too a much-earlier Milan version with Celibidache that was pirated onto CD and which Haendel herself speaks about with much affection). This one with Rattle, from a BBC Proms concert, really gets to the concerto’s heart; her playing fills the Royal Albert Hall without force; here is total absorption in the work, a lifetime’s experience, a deep relationship with the music, Rattle encouraging an edgy, gutsy, pungent and suspense-filled orchestral response. The ‘moderate’ tempo (quite dogged) for the finale is spot-on. Unmissable!
The recorded sound is generally very good, and very well balanced. The reproduction of the Elgar is a little wavery at times (and there’s a bit of broadcast crackle – good old analogue!) but perfectly acceptable and outweighed by the glorious performance; the Sibelius is tangibly clear (while preserving the Royal Albert Hall’s space) and safeguards an electrifying rendition. All in all, a timely reminder of Ida Haendel’s greatness in two of her signature concertos and with one of her favourite conductors.

 

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