Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Johannes Brahms, George Enescu, Carl Maria von Weber|
Ida Haendel Vol. 3
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
Listen to Samples
Haendel off-the-air - a fine document of her art, but not a
Discophage | France | 04/08/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I was kind of half-expecting not to appreciate this recording. There seems to be something like a cult around Ida Haendel, and in my experience this is often a mixed-blessing: since the artist is an icon, nobody seems to actually listen to the recordings and realize that they are not worth all the fuss. But in fact this is, despite a few reservations, an excellent account of Enescu's 3rd .Sonata "Dans le caratère populaire roumain" (in the Rumanian folk character).
Let's start with the drawbacks: this is an off-the-air recording, made on the occasion of a concert given in Toronto on Feb 2, 1980, and the disc's producers, presumably in order to keep the sense of a live concert heard off the radio, have kept even the commentator's announcements (and haven't faded them in and out very tastefully either). I (and they, as there is no overlap of music and applause) could have done without. The recording picks up some of Haendel's breathing, but it is nowhere as obtrusive as in the studio recording she made 16 years later of Enescu's Sonata. But other than that, the sound lacks clarity and brilliance, and even suffers slight dropouts, especially noticeable with headphones in Brahms. One adjusts, but this plus the attitude to the announcements is enough to put this release in the "documents and testimonies" category - the kind of thing you used to keep on cassette back in the LP era. There are also a few coughs, but I find them obtrusive only in the slow movement of Brahms. The February Toronto public is better behaved than the equivalent Europeans. Habit of the cold, maybe. The liner notes offer a general presentation of Haendel, but nothing on this specific program or concert.
The Brahms Sonata op. 78 is played with fire and in the grand manner, but to me it is the rarer Enescu 3rd that makes the interest of this disc. Haendel can claim a special legitimacy in this piece, as she was a student of Enescu in her early days in Paris and played the Sonata for him. And indeed, she turns out a fine reading of Enescu's masterpiece, fully idiomatic and very rhapsodic, let down only by some plodding moments in the finale. In the first movement I only wish she had observed a little more minutely the very subtle dynamic shadings written out by the composers. But her phrasings are fully idiomatic, her partner Ronald Turini is entirely up to his daunting task, and the two are precise enough, other than a few spots where Haendel enters slightly late, but not enough to be noticeable without the score. Also, at the beginning of the second movement, she doesn't even attempt to be in-sync with the underlying piano quintuplets - she just takes them as an ostinato and enters freely. But for her defence, even Enescu did that, and, other than an unfortunate finger slip at 0:27, she conjures the marvellously mysterious and eerie colors and the whimsicality of spirit that the score calls for.. On the other hand the finale starts very disappointingly. Possibly due to the daunting risks posed in a live concert by the score's redoubtable syncopations and off-beat rhythms, the two partners take it very, very cautiously - in fact slower than any of the numerous other versions I have heard - which doesn't prevent them from getting it wrong at the beginning. Consequently the movement loses its robust dynamism and feels plodding. To make things worse, Haendel doesn't seem very much at ease it the myriad technical and coloristic effects in the second section (for instance around 3:10). But the two musicians do warm up in the course of the movement, and the coda has grandeur and passion - although the acoustics are a little too dry to let the violin sound bloom out as it should, and the recording muddies the thick piano textures and robs them of their awesome pounding power in the final pages.
As mentioned, Haendel made a studio recording of Enescu's masterpiece, in 1996, with Vladimir Ashkenazy (Enescu, Bartók, Szymanowski: Works for Violin & Piano). The sound is certainly better, but through temperament or recording perspective or both the two partners aren't matched too well (the piano sounds overbearing) and Haendel's tone has somewhat deteriorated in the intervening years. Despite the sonic and interpretive flaws, this 1980 concert is a much better representation of Haendel in this piece, and a better testimony of her art. But because of these flaws, it is not entirely competitive with the best studio versions - Stern, Kavakos, Martin, Korcia in Enescu (Franck, Debussy, Enesco: Violin Sonatas, Ravel: Sonate posthume; Tzigane; Enescu: Impressions d'enfance; Sonata No. 3, Enescu: Impressions, Tzigane: Musique d' Europe Centrale).