Written by Stephen Brivati
Published: December 24, 2013 at 4:17 AM [UTC]
When I was a mere stripling I happened to hear Ida Haendel playing the Walton violin concerto in the Proms. There was a brief passage of the most sensual double stopping in the last movement which she played so beautifully it made my hair stand on end. From that time on I always wanted to hear that same gut wrenching sadness from whoever was performing. Heifetz, arguably the greatest exponent of this concerto did not, in spite of everything, give me what I yearned for. Later, at music college we accompanied the great English violinist Robert Gibbs in the same work and his wonderful performance also failed to recreate this magical moment. I was lucky enough to be playing in a quartet with him so I suppose I could have asked him to play it 'more like Ida,' but I think it might have annoyed him.
After a recent blog here my looney Swedish nemesis pointed out that my seeing eye armadillo probably put the mockers on any romantic potential with Ms. Haendel. Disappointing though this was it did bring back the sound of that magical Haendel moment in spades so I decided to make her my binge of the week. I actually started with her masterclass at the RCM. This also brought back less than pleasant memories for me. I was in college when the Peter Peers concert hall/opera house was finished and the college decided it wanted to cram as many players into the pit as possible in order to evaluate it's actuall capacity and acoustic. A noisy, unpleasant experience that threatened to damage instruments, but at least I can claim to be almost the first person ever to play there. The master class itself is one of of the best examples of its kind I have ever seen.
It takes a lot of experience and coaching talent to do a good masterclass and deciding what is appropriate to say or do is incredibly hair raising. Haendel took on three very talented violinists in their early twenties and honed in on exactly what was necessary, an incredibly impressive performance. More often than not she went repeatedly back to the score but then also focused on fundamental aspects of style which highlighted even painfully at some points how little young players seem to think beyond playing well technically.
After that I had to listen to her play and the 1953 Brahms has become an all time favorite although Szigeti is hard to surpass in his final recording of that work.
But the question of listening to Haendel these days can be a hard one. She has very clearly articulated her view that 'age has nothing to do with it,' as though she is still the same virtuouso who at 19 was blowing away all and sundry even though she could not yet read music.... And yet, as in the performance of the Bruch on YouTube, she is on many occasion simply unable to play certain quite basic technical passages. It is as though the memory of how to hit those notes has simply failed and all that is left is a horribly out of tune mess. Should one then make allowances? frankly I wasn't sure if I could at first but I stuck with with it because she still has the sound and I am glad I did. Sure enough there are lyrical passages of such passion and depth in the last two movement of that performance where I was just taken right back to her Walton. I wanted to go away and try, just try and play even a few notes as beautifully as she does so many wonderful passages between the detritus.
I guess she is still my idol.
My first memory of her is "only" from 1996'ish when I heard her play the Brahms better than anyone I have ever heard live, but when the encore came.... the Händel Prayer arranged by Flesch, I and everyone in the audience just wept...
That sound, that emotion, it all touched the right strings in us and I believe that the entire audience had a new favorite violinist that day. A very small one.
Thanks for re-reminding me :)
I'm impressed by women who 'made it', esp. during the years she was at her peak. It's a hard road for anyone, and given family, peer and societal pressure and expectations, especially so for a woman.
I applaud her efforts to promote herself as effectively as she did after her promoters 'let her go'...be it due to age (?), gender (?) or degree of physical attractiveness (?)...and she discusses these issues very candidly.
You go Girl!
How can a person have so much music inside then? This (2009) 'informal' evening is truly amazing...
listen at ~9.06
Brahms, Wieniawski, Paganini, you name it...
then her Glazunov on the third (there are 4 from the same evening) tape, at 6.23. What gorgeous musicality... fabulous...
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