The Music Plays On

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The great violinist, Ida Haendel, passed away yesterday at the age of 91, or 96, depending on the obituary one reads. Regardless of the veracity of her age, we have lost one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century.

Ida Haendel was born in Chelm, Poland. At the age of 3 she started to play the violin and it was apparent from the very moment she picked up the instrument that she was a natural. Her father, a painter and frustrated violinist devoted himself to his daughter’s musical development and career. Moving to Warsaw to further Ida’s studies, she caught the attention of Bronisław Huberman and Joseph Szigeti. Szigeti offered to teach her for free if she and her father could get to Paris. Upon arrival, they found out that Szigeti was about to depart on a tour to the U.S. so they found another teacher, the great Carl Flesch. The Haendels eventually followed Flesch to London where, in 1936, Ida made her debut. During the war, she performed in Myra Hess’s National Gallery concerts, endearing her to the British public. In the forties, she made a series of recordings for Decca that show what an incredibly lyrical and virtuosic player she was, perfectly embodying the teaching principles of Flesch. This playlist includes these legendary recordings, plus an extraordinary recording from 1990 with the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Haendel’s first concerto recordings were in 1945 with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto conducted by Basil Cameron, 1947 with the Dvorak Violin Concerto conducted by Karl Rankl, 1948 with Bruch’s Violin Concerto №1 and in 1953 with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, both conducted by Rafael Kubelik.

One of her most famous recordings, and a recording I have cherished since it was first re-released on CD in the nineties is of the Brahms Violin Concerto, conducted by Sergiu Celibidache with the London Symphony Orchestra. Haendel and Celibidache’s approach to sound were ideally suited for this particular concerto and I consider it as one of the greatest recordings of any concerto.

But she will most likely be remembered for her very close relationship to the Sibelius Violin Concerto, which she recorded many times over the course of her long career. Sibelius himself heard a radio broadcast and wrote, ‘I congratulate you on the great success, but most of all I congratulate myself, that my concerto has found an interpreter of your rare standard.’ I have always particularly loved her first recording from 1957, with Karel Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic.

One of the greatest recordings of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole was made with Karel Ancerl, as well.

And I absolutely adore her recording of the Khachaturian Violin Concerto.

Another recording that I remember being in awe of when it was released were her complete recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.

I encourage you to watch this wonderful documentary from 2004 called, I Am the Violin.

And her perceptive remarks during this remarkable masterclass at the Royal College of Music.

And this very sweet conversation with Ida Haendel and Steven Isserlis.