A POKER-FACE GENIUS WHO WILL BREAK YOUR HEART: The inimitable art of Jascha Heifetz

The much-missed violinist Aaron Rosand once recalled a specific Heifetz concert performance – it was the world premiere of Louis Gruenberg’s action-packed, movie-style Violin Concerto. “He stood there like a god,” mused Aaron affectionately, “immobile and immaculate with his waistcoat, silver watch and chain, bowing these sounds that went straight to your heart. It was incredible”. Extant films of Heifetz in performance confirm that same impression and yet even now some commentators equate a lack of visual demonstrativeness with a supposed coolness of interpretation, the strongest possible argument for not seeing who’s playing. (‘Who wants to watch people work?’ was Sviatoslav Richter’s take on music videos). ‘Poker-face’ by the way is a term that Heifetz claimed others used when describing how he looked on stage. And fast speeds? The ‘Complete Stereo Collection’ that I’m recommending below includes, in addition to elegant Mozart, assertive Beethoven, forceful Brahms (Solo and Double concertos), searing Sibelius and expressive 20th century works by Rózsa and Arthur Benjamin, a whole plethora of chamber music recordings where your pulse will quicken as the tempo increases.

Take Mozart’s G minor Quintet – one of numerous recordings from the ‘Heifetz-Piatigorsky’ chamber music series (sample below) – the breathless sense or urgency, tragedy even, of the first movement, light years removed from the more relaxed, dainty ‘crooked pinkie’ style so often favoured by the Viennese. I remember Gramophone magazine raving about this recording when it first came out as part of a vinyl box set, and when Radio 3 (then the Third Programme) broadcast the G minor one Saturday morning this Mozart-sceptic was won over by the sheer intensity of the playing – the minuet pitilessly dramatic, the slow movement so rich in expressive inflections that I could hardly breathe for the duration. Come the super-swift finale and I was overwhelmed, much as I would be by the accompanying Schubert, Brahms, Franck and Mendelssohn masterpieces that confirmed elevated standards already established by the Quintet. People wrote in terms of a string playing ‘summit’ and they weren’t wrong. Yes there are other ways to play this sort of music (think of Adolf Busch, Joseph Szigeti, Sándor Végh, Pablo Casals, Isaac Stern and so forth) but Heifetz & co would regularly visit a single phrase with such ardour and heightened colour that the effect stayed with you long after the music had faded from earshot.

Schubert’s late Fantasie provides a fine example of the older Heifetz at his most rugged, a cork-faced W H Auden to compare with the dashing Errol Flynn of his youth (or Busch’s princely traversal) … but, again, it’s what you learn from listening that matters most – the sense of line, even when frail, and the elevated transition to the excited closing variation. Tchaikovsky’s sextet Souvenir de Florence (another fairly ‘late’ recording) is as rough as hell, a real onslaught in fact, but so honest in its reckless enthusiasm, so fearless, that any attempt at resistance is futile.

I shan’t bore you with a blow-by-blow resumé of the whole collection. There’s no need for that, but if you can follow my thinking thus far you’ll know what to expect from the rest. Heifetz levels with you nose-to-nose; he’ll brook no compromise when it comes to musical feeling and he won’t let the odd slipped note get in the way of an ‘as-live’ spontaneous performance (there’s a whopping slip near the end of the finale of Beethoven’s Trio Op. 1 No. 1). Heifetz was famously averse to stitching re-takes into the main recording; the truth and nothing but …, might have been his motto. Try the brief trio of Bach Inventions for size, or the (cut) finale to Mozart’s ‘Turkish’ Concerto. Always there’s this feeling that Heifetz is allowing you access to elevated front-room music-making. You feel privileged and enriched to be there. At least I do, always.

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=2215185

Mozart G minor Quintet – i (allegro)

PERFECTION WITH A PURPOSE – the priceless art of Andór Foldes

Years ago, as a youthful Bartók acolyte, I learned the three piano concertos via Géza Anda’s marvellous DG recordings (with Ferenc Fricsay conducting) and the solo piano works from György Sándor’s near-complete series on Vox. Years later I acquired Andor Foldes’ DG mono set of the solo works (less comprehensive than Sándor’s but still representative) and was amazed at just how different the music sounded, chiselled and well drilled as opposed to improvisatory and relatively unbuttoned, which was more the case with Sándor. Foldes is at his best in the pile-driving opening movements of the Sonata (sample below) and the suite Out of Doors, but he also achieves a sense of stillness in the slower music (the Suite’s ‘Night Music’ for example), and being Hungarian-born his mastery of the Hungarian folk idiom is evident in his grandly assertive performances of, for example, Kodály’s Marosszék Dances and Háry Janós suite (excerpts), the latter as arranged by Foldes himself. All of these recordings have already been released on Australia’s miracle reissue label Eloquence but now find themselves boxed together with countless other goodies in the context of a handsome and superbly documented 19-cd bargain set ‘Andor Foldes: Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings’, (484 1256).

If it were possible to wear out cds, I’d already be on my second set – and I’ve only had it a week! I kid you not, this is for the most part remarkable playing, the first disc devoted to elderly Decca/Polydor recordings (1949/1950) of music by Prokofiev and Bartók, the latter’s Sonata similar in concept to the better recorded DG re-make, the Second Concerto (with the Lamoureux Orchestra under Eugène Bigot) tight as a drum ensemble-wise (premonitions of Anda and Fricsay), with a central movement that comes closer than any I’ve encountered to Bartók’s own rule-bending revelation (ie, a pretty dire-sounding pre-war broadcast recording of excerpts issued by Hungaroton). Other early recordings, never previously released on CD (the vinyl originals are as rare as hen’s teeth) originate from Mercury’s earliest years and consist of music by Schumann (including a quite magical account of ‘Papillons’) and Grieg (Norwegian Peasant Dances), Foldes proving himself as adept in the musical folklore of Norway as he is – or was – in the folkish works of Bartók and Kodály.

The other indispensable 20th century repertoire disc features music by Barber, Copland, Stravinsky, Thomson and Albéniz. It’s fascinating to compare Foldes’s relatively inwards-looking account of Copland’s magnificent solo Sonata with Leon Fleisher’s stereo version from just a few years later (recently reissued as a bonus CD in Sony Classical’s admirable Fromm Music Foundation 20th Century music collection, 19439715642), Fleisher equally nimble but more assertive whereas in the Vivace Foldes seems to be dancing among the shadows of another world. Then again Foldes humanises the sustained finale like no-one else – while in his hands Stravinsky’s Sonata could be said virtually to define neoclassical elegance.

The beauty of Foldes’s playing is in the way he articulates every note of each piece, even at speed, though speed is never an end in itself, as is obvious from his thoughtful yet viscerally exciting account of Liszt’s B minor Sonata (the sort of reading I could imagine Lipatti giving) and the brilliant opening of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue while the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata dazzles with its clarity, precision and faultless sense of rhythm. Foldes’s Beethoven in general has both muscle and bounce (virtually half of the sonata cycle is included), the opening movement of the Sonata Op. 7 like that of his idol Wilhelm Backhaus (I’m thinking of Backhaus’s second [stereo] recording in particular) a model of how to ‘explain’, in performance terms, the common sense of sonata form. The First Concerto under Ferdinand Leitner is another instance of immaculate musical judgement, the fun-filled finale both swift and sparkling. And there are the Mozart concertos (five are included), the Andante of No. 15 in B flat a performance that gave rise to the claim at the head of this review, ie ‘perfection with a purpose’. I’ve heard Mozart playing that’s as good as this, but none that’s better. So a rapturous thumbs-up from me for a set that although unlikely to reveal all its secrets in one go has enough in store to nourish you for a lifetime. These sets tend not to hang around forever but on the off chance that you do – make sure to have this one on your shelves, a worthy accompaniment for eternity!

https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/products/8797738–andor-foldes-complete-deutsche-grammophon-recordings

TRISTAN ON THE TILES – a major tip-off

Some years ago I chanced up a French EMI double CD album that featured the two-piano and solo recordings of pianists Jean Wiéner and Clément Doucet. It included Doucet’s deliciously camp – some would say outrageous – Isoldina (doesn’t the name give it away?), a sort of stride/foxtrot hybrid where the ecstatic climax of Isolde’s ‘Liebestod’ is thrown off like a flirtatious giggle. Over time I’ve scored many laughs with this track and recently, just by accident, I discovered that in 2013 EMI Classics released the complete Wiéner/Doucet legacy from the 1920s and 1930s on four cds (none of which plays for less than 79 minutes, 50999 72570326) where supporting artists include Maurice Chevalier; Jean, Mireille and Germaine Sablon, and Yvonne Vallée. Other classical masters ‘tweaked’ include Grieg, Liszt, Chopin, Dvorák, Johann Strauss and more Wagner. Gershwin is very well represented, as are Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter; there are even super-cool versions of Love for Sale and Saint Louis Blues played by Wiéner on the harpsichord – and a very musical ‘straight’ complete account of Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos K.448, plus Bach. But it’s the bravura and the panache of the playing that will have you hooked for hours, the mastery of rhythm and inner voices, smiles that are never forced (or worse still, patronising) and what sounds like the sheer joy of making music. And what style! The extensive booklet notes are in French only but you’ll find useful stuff on Wiki. The booklet also includes photos and comprehensive discographical information. I bought my set on line from Amazon at around £25.00

Here’s a sampling of Doucet’s way with Chopin and Wagner.

An Eroica to treasure

Having already released Jascha Horenstein’s 1957 Baden-Baden recording of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (PASC505) Pristine Audio have now decided to add the conductor’s broader 1953 account with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra to their sizeable catalogue. Back in the late 1960s while working for the BBC as a concerts management assistant I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Deryck Cooke. Being in awe of Cooke’s Gramophone reviews I’d frequently waylay him for chats about (LP) records. One afternoon we hit upon the subject of Horenstein’s Eroica, which Cooke had a great fondness for, “but not the later version,” he insisted, continuing (and here I’m relying on memory), “in the earlier version you really notice how, towards the end of the first movement, he builds the music, layer upon layer, with everything audible – woodwinds especially – so that the peroration is truly overwhelming.” Needless to say, I rushed to my local (Hendon) library, ordered the Vox lp and on receiving it was suitably impressed. Things were just as Cooke suggested they would be. The playing of the VSO is dramatic in the extreme, the timpanist often cueing a thunderous roar above the rest of the orchestra, the deep-toned lower strings almost Furtwänglerian in their contribution to the ‘Funeral March’.  According to Misha Horenstein, his cousin Jascha reportedly told an interviewer that “the first Eroica I conducted with my heart, the second with my head.”  Only the start of the finale is rather effortful for an Allegro molto but otherwise this is a most memorable performance, more so than the coupling, a 1952 version of the Eighth with Orchestre National de France which though lively enough is interpretatively unmemorable. Good sound throughout.

Beethoven Eroica Jasch Horenstein

Pristine Audio PASC 589

www.pristineclassical.com

DISCOVERING ALEXANDER VEPRIK: A musical force to reckon with

It’s said that at the time of his second denunciation by Andrei Zhdanov, Dmitri Shostakovich “waited for his arrest at night, out on the landing by the lift, so that at least his family wouldn’t be disturbed.” Prior to his rehabilitation at home the composer suffered untold hardships but at least he avoided a much-feared fate that was possibly worse than death: the torturous, lonely and pain-inducing Gulag. That was indeed the fate that the Ukrainian-born Jewish composer Alexander Veprik faced after his arrest in 1950. The promised eight years of forced labour turned out to be four, but still, Veprik returned home a broken man. And the effect on his music? Amazingly, inspiringly, we can sense a lightening glow somewhere beyond darkened skies, much like Yevgeny Ukhnalyov’s wonderful painting that adorns the booklet cover for MDG’s superb all-Veprik CD, Ukhnalyov another Gulag victim, six years interred this time rather than four.

In the second of Veprik’s expertly orchestrated Two Poems, at 5:16, after a poetic opening, the composer ups the pace for some highly variegated and dramatic writing, sometimes reflecting Prokofiev, at other times Shostakovich himself, but then at 9:35, quiet but promising fanfares and whooping brass signal a valiant arrival. Could we be approaching Liberty Island (echoes of Gershwin at 11:53, and the Second Rhapsody in particular – probably coincidental – seem to suggest so), an optimistic New World being traded for the shackles of the Old, though the triumphant close recalls Shostakovich, whose Eleventh Symphony seems to hover 40 seconds into the Dances and Songs of the Ghetto, Viprek’s opus having been composed thirty years earlier. Mention of Veprik’s contemporaries (the Greek composer Skalkottas seems conspicuous by his prophetic dancing presence in this same work) brings me to Sibelius whose spirit fills the Pastorale, maybe the Hasidic Baal Shem sitting by the river Tuoni, watching the long-necked Swan signalling terrible sadness yet to come. These references to other composers are intended merely as a guide to what you might expect when listening. And then there’s the last of Five Little Pieces for Orchestra, a devastatingly simple Lento, all 3:15 of it, music that seems to encapsulate the troubled but at times comforting spirit of this quite remarkable composer. The Two Symphonic Songs are also mightily impressive.

Look hard enough and you’ll always be able to find little-known music that appeals. But music of this quality, that seems to score the stream of life with such immense facility and level of intuition? Not in my experience. Among recent discoveries Mieczysław Weinberg is maybe the closest point of reference. Christoph-Mathias Mueller draws brilliant performances from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, who seem committed to every note of each score. The recorded sound is first-rate and so are the booklet annotations. A potential Award-winner I’d say.

Alexander Veprik Orchestral Works

BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Christoph-Mathias Mueller

Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 901 2133-6

SERGIU CELIBIDACHE: musical phenomenon or fraud?

Some forty years or so ago I attended a series of concerts at London’s Royal Festival Hall featuring the LSO under the highly controversial Romanian conductor-composer (also teacher and music theorist) Sergiu Celibidache, whose performances were often – to quote Debussy – ‘slower than slow’. They were also in many ways revelatory, but more about that in a moment. Celibidache usually refused to release his performances on commercially available discs, claiming that a listener could not have a “transcendental experience” outside of the concert hall. Zen Buddhism was a significant influence on his thinking, both musically and philosophically.

If Furtwängler and Huberman were sceptical about so-called canned music, Celebidache was positively paranoid about it. Among the few commercial recordings he made was the Brahms Violin Concerto featuring the young (and recently deceased) Ida Haendel, who adored him and claimed in interview that his prophecy that she would only grasp the musical essence of the Brahms once she turned forty, or thereabouts, was spot-on. But back to those concerts. Most memorable was a sequence of pieces from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet ballet, ‘Masques’ (which was encored) taken at a teasingly slow tempo – it had people giggling in the aisles – and an account of the ‘Tomb Scene’ that was virtually powerful enough to shake the Royal Festival Hall’s foundations. That said, you had to be there. I’ve since heard a radio recording of the same concert and the effect as recorded doesn’t quite match up. Debussy, Dvorák, Hindemith, Sibelius and Verdi also featured. I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be hearing this sort of music-making post-war. It’s surely the product of a far earlier age.’ So, what do you reckon, a visionary who viewed and felt music ‘on the slant’ (to paraphrase the poet Emily Dickinson) or a poseur, to quote my dear friend Tully Potter?

Another encounter found me working late on evening in the basement archive at Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers (where I was employed for near-on nineteen years). I had a radio with me, switched it on and ‘Celi’ was conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius Five. I kid you not, but never have the work’s closing minutes affected me more profoundly than they did on that memorable occasion. You’ll know the passage which is said to have been inspired by the sound of swan-calls, as well as a specific instance when Sibelius witnessed sixteen swans taking flight at once. All I’ll say is that I was suddenly transported, even flown skywards, so magnificently effective was Celibidache’s elevated way of sustaining the music.

Years later when I worked with the violinist-conductor Christian Gansch, a lovely guy, who was at the time a significant force at Deutsche Grammophon, I told him about  this performance. Christian had played in the Munich Philharmonic under ‘Celi’ and was in the process of releasing his recordings involving other orchestras (Bruckner, Brahms, Ravel etc) for the yellow label. He soon tracked the Sibelius down too, coupling it with the Second Symphony, now one of my most treasured cds. Then there was the Munich PO/Warners CD of Bruckner’s Fourth, the slow, ritual march of the finale’s coda initially all-but unrecognisable. I remember playing it to Bruckner-loving friends who thought it was …. wait for it …. Gorecki! Then again they hated modern music, Gorecki 3 was at that time all the rage, and they probably meant the reference as a slur.

So, to recall my challenge: Sergiu Celibidache, musical phenomenon or fraud? Do let me know which side of the fence you’re placed.

IDA HAENDEL The ‘Grand dame of the violin’ dies at 96

Writes violin expert Tully Potter ‘I have just heard that Ida Haendel has died in Miami. She would have turned 97 later this year – she adroitly took five years off her age some time ago. She was certainly among the top violinists of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and played many of the great concertos with a lot of flair. Fortunately she left quite a few recordings, although the live concert ones are often better than the studio productions – the Elgar is a good example. She used to be a huge favourite at the Proms but got swept out by some of the misguided ‘new thinking’. As an interviewee she was always interesting. RIP.

Tully was at a recital/interview that I was involved in some years ago when Ida played Enescu’s Gipsy-style Third Sonata, a performance that was more a frail remembrance than a fiery enactment of the score. But it was incredibly moving and our chat on stage afterwards found her vividly reminiscing about her peers and older contemporaries. She was razor sharp, funny and just a little mischievous. All this came out in her playing, which was probably at its greatest in the 1960s and 1970s. Lady Weidenfeld (the manager of pianist Menahem Pressler) has sent me this tribute from Ida’s nephew.

A message about, and tribute to, Ida Haendel

It is with heavy heart that I let my Facebook friends and family know that my beloved aunt, the legendary and world renown violinist Ida Haendel, passed away peacefully last night at her home in Miami. 
Aside from the fact that she is the one that kept my family alive during the war (it was because of her being a child prodigy they were taken out of Poland by the British government) I have so many fond memories of her…She was a wonderful aunt to me and I looked upon her as mom #2, as her constant travel schedule left her no time  for a family of her own. She took me on tour with her on my first trip to Asia (I carried her Stradivarius violin which she never entrusted to anyone else). She got me interested in my future career, watching CBC and the BBC film documentaries on her life, and got me my first audio job, helping to remaster old opera albums at EMI/ ABBEY Road studios in London (where I also got to hold and listen to the master tapes of the Beatles White Album). Our yearly trips to Lake George, Lake Placid and Florida  were wonderful, and going to her concerts, listening to her play with such extraordinary grace and ability were a regular part of my childhood.


I was so proud when I accompanied her to a concert in Tokyo, and I noted that the violinist at points played Sibelius off key..she turned to me and said “oh my…you caught that…you have an ear for music”. I let her know that after hearing her play so flawlessly for so long, how could I miss the errors. 
Though living far away from me, it was my pleasure and honour to take care of her to the best of my abilities (and thank god to her best Friend Ana Vergel, for always being there for her in Miami) the last few years of her life – so a bit about that life if you are interested:


A proud British subject and Canadian citizen, U.S. resident, Israeli benefactor, prominent global citizen and child prodigy, my aunt made a significant mark upon the world of music, and the lives of those she has touched with her endearing personality and brilliance in so many spheres. At a time when few if any female musical talents mastered the airwaves and drew major audiences, Ida Haendel was a pioneer. Her ability to fluently and emotionally converse in eight languages, astounding contributions to arts, culture, society in general, her legendary solo international performances and YouTube videos, has made her a noteworthy and celebrated representative of societal ethos, kindness, and talent, she has well earned the title of ‘Grand Dame of the Violin’ as one of the world’s greatest violinists. 


Wherever Ms. Haendel played; The composer, her fans and fellow musicians adored her musical brilliance, dedication to her art, and to helping the international community in any way she could. She has been headlined in articles around the globe by such labels as one of; “The Great Women Artists Who Shaped Music”, “Legendary Violinists”, “An Icon for Young violinists”, “The finest violinists of the 20th century” and “is still amazing at age 81”. Legendary conductor Zubin Mehta was in awe of her expressing “an artist who thought out every single note”, and upon hearing Ms. Haendel play one of his compositions, Sibelius himself sent her a note saying “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.” and she was considered “one of the most enduring idols of the concert platform”.


Her accomplishments and the accolades and honours afforded her are too many to list in one letter, however her history is a testament to someone who has dedicated her life to others and the world of music.
At 4 years of age, she began formal studies with Miecyzslaw Michalowicz at the Warsaw Conservatory, where she won its gold medal in 1933, the First Prize at B. Huberman Competition in Warsaw, and in 1935 was one of the laureates of the 1st International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Warsaw.


In 1936 Ms. Hendel settled in London, saving her family from the war in Poland, and a short time later, in 1937, she made her London debut at the Queen’s Hall with the celebrated conductor Henry Wood and subsequently made regular appearances at his Promenade concerts.
In 1940 Ms. Haendel became a naturalized British subject, and an exclusive Decca recording artist, one of the first classical artists in the company’s history. She has since recorded for some of the other great labels in the world, including Harmonia Mundi, and EMI CLASSICS.
She performed regularly as soloist with legendary maestros including Zubin Mehta (Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), Paavo Berglund (Finnish Radio Orchestra), Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (London Symphony Orchestra), Charles Dutoit (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) and the Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache, a relationship that endured for thirty- five years.

In 1970 she published her autobiography “Woman with Violin”. Additionally, between the period of 1986 and 2006, Ms. Haendel sat on the jury of the International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań. Ida Haendel plays a rare 1696 Stradivari violin which was revealed in her book was “as precious to me as a limb. I had found my ‘mate’ in this beautiful instrument made in 1699, which I use to this day”.
In 1952 Ms. Haendel moved with her father and mother to Montreal, Canada, to be with her sister Alice and family for many years.
As the first western soloist to be invited to perform there after the cultural revolution, Ms. Haendel played in China in the spring of 1973, just one of many cultural exchange contributions she has made to the world beyond her music.

In 1979, as Ms. Haendel’s father was aging, the family began spending most of their time in Miami, Florida with her dog Decca (named after her first record label). Ms. Haendel made considerable efforts to shape the growing classical music community in Miami, with many concerts and performances she played in, and many organized to her credit and in her honour. https://www.nws.edu/events- tickets/concerts/miami-music-festival-honors-ida-haendel/

Among her many honours she received the Sibelius Prize, awarded in 1982 for her distinguished performances of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Great Britain honoured her with the title of “Commander of the British Empire” (1991), she received an “Honorary Doctorate of the Royal College” (2000), and in 2006 a Doctorate from McGill University in Montreal.
In 2001, the BBC in London devoted a week of “live performances” to her, drawing on archive material interspersed with interviews with Ms. Haendel herself. There have been documentaries on her life produced by the BBC, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) , IDTV Amsterdam, Televizja Polska, and she has performed at the BBC Proms 68 times. Her reach in the old and new media is extensive, with hundreds of interviews and articles, Facebook pages, and YouTube videos, all devoted to her performances, lectures and life.
In 2006, Ms. Haendel played in Poland before Pope Benedict XVI (whom she chatted with after) on the site of the former Nazi camp Auschwitz-Birkenau performing Handel’s prayer Dettingen Te Deum with harp, as organizers wanted her to play a Jewish score. That year Ms. Haendel also gave a concert in her hometown of Chelm in a programme of Bach, Wieniawski, Tartini, Sarasate, Bruch, and Tchaikovsky conducted by Stanislaw Galonski. In honour of Ms. Haendel, her birth town leadership sculpted a statue of her as a child on a bench in the main square, and named a concert hall in her honour.

Ms. Haendel has been a staunch supporter of developing musical artists, and she has inspired a new generation of violinists including Anne-Sophie Mutter and Maxim Vengerov. In 2008 she gave master classes in Keshet Eilon Kibbutz Israel, Verona Italy in 2010, and in 2012 Ms. Haendel was a guest artist at Cambridge (England) International String Academy.
Ms. Haendel conducted master classes for most of her latter years, and served as a model for so many violinists and musicians, such as the prodigiously talented Ms. Chloe Hanslip, and “The Violin Girl” Leia Zhu whose dream it was to visit Ms. Haendel a few years ago: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xptJGdQSjqk)

Ms. Haendel had dedicated her life to performing for her adoring fans, and has been a teacher and inspiration to a new generation of musicians around the world to whom she has contributed so much of her time and passion (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/preview-ida-haendel-the-razumovsky-academy-wigmore-hall-london-763203.html)
Ms. Haendel had also been a passionate volunteer in elevating the morale of the people of England during WWII when she played for the troops, factory workers and in hospitals for injured soldiers. She had raised money and awareness through benefits for Israel, and financially as well as personally supported Harmony for Humanity and the Daniel Pearl foundation, as can be seen in this video with Herbie Hancock and Sir Elton John (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiadQEF06bI) ,where thousands of people around the world joined hands in a musical celebration to support the cause.


In her Miami home, mementos of the past were all around her. Pictures with famous musicians, politicians, conductors and royalty, including those of her many interactions with the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, all who attended and admired Ms. Haendel’s musical virtuosity.
Ida Haendel, often referred to as the ‘Grand Dame of the violin’, was one of the most significant figures in classical music this century and a proud global citizen, the world has lost a musical legend and she will be missed by all who knew and admired her, her friends and close family who loved her dearly.

Had I not been Jewish, could I have been a Nazi?

I was always an incredibly trusting child, hung onto my parents’ every word, believed everything they said even though years later, once my mind started venturing more along analytical lines, I questioned much that I had previously taken for granted, such as ‘the only good German is a dead German’. Of course, being racially Jewish and born not too long after the Camps had been liberated, Jewish anti-German bitterness was only to be expected, even from Jewish Austro-Germans. I can vividly remember standing in our North London dining room on the Sabbath watching darkly garbed people walking past the window on their way to Synagogue (which my parents virtually never attended) and unconsciously matching that image with the death-haunted tales that my parents – whose families included no Holocaust victims – had told me. Because my hard-working Ukrainian-born maternal grandfather, or Zayde, (a tailor by trade) was deeply religious, and I wanted to explore thinking beyond the materialist borders of my own household, I flirted with Judaism on a practical level, wouldn’t as much as flick a light switch on Shabbat, nor smoke (which I did in those days) or listen to music. I was defining my inner self but being a passionate lover of poetry and a potential devotee of philosophy, psychology and world religion (only as an enthusiastic amateur I might add) I was using the steps of Judaism to reach places beyond orthodox practice. Before long the open sky replaced the Synagogue’s roof and my reading ranged beyond Judaic texts to major works from disparate sources. It was my coming of age though I retain the greatest respect for genuinely religious people, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims or whoever.  

All this is a preamble to a difficult and uncomfortable admission. When at school although we had no music lessons as such, a German pianist by the name of John Gunter played at our school assembly. We got to know each other well, even wrote a song together (I was 13 at the time), ‘Far from me’ which got as far as a test (45 rpm) record and a potential performance from crooner Matt Monroe. John wrote the tune, I wrote the words, the opening line ‘Here am I, just an unimportant ripple on the sea …’ I’m sure it wasn’t terribly good (my words that is) but still I appreciated the faith that John had in me. We also shared a love of Wagner and I’d go to his pad near Golders Green – later on with my wife – listening to his 78s of great performances by Melchior, Leider, Mengelberg, Furtwängler, Karl Muck and others.

Here was a German who was most definitely good, I thought, and I was right. But one day I saw Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda spectacular The Triumph of the Will and I have to admit it thrilled me to the core. I can admit it now, but I could never have admitted it then, not even to myself. Years later I posed the difficult question: if this sensitive, trusting child, had he been born an Aryan German rather than a Jewish Londoner, could I have swallowed all the toxic Nazi propaganda? Had my beloved parents referred to Jews as evil vermin, as expendable, grasping, a bothersome drain on the nation’s resources, as inferior, both physically and culturally, would I have believed them? I’m terribly afraid that as a naïve, doting son, I probably would have done.  

Let’s say that I attended a recital by that notable, and great, Ayran anti-Nazi violinist Adolf Busch, went backstage wearing my Hitler Youth insignia and Busch affectionately put his arm around me saying, ‘have nothing to do with them son, they’re evil,’ would I have appreciated his words or believed my father who (fictionally) called Busch a ‘Jew kisser’ (a stock German reaction to Oskar Schindler after the War). Don’t forget, Dad’s never wrong.

Then, once the War was over, the Holocaust exposed, and the whole fetid business of Nazism revealed in its blood-drenched colours, would Rob as-was become newly-born, try to understand just what had been lost, either killed or catapulted into exile, millions of innocents amongst whom were great scientists, artists, musicians (performers and composers), philosophers, psychologist, poets (including the writers of the humanist Hasidic tales), novelists, academics, war heroes and so forth? I shan’t patronise the cause by naming a single one of them, but I don’t have to: you already know who they are. Could I really have forgiven my people, but far more important than that, might have I forgiven myself, a youthful innocent whose unthinking faith contributed, in some tiny way, to what happened? I just don’t know the answer to that. But what I can say is that the elevated canon of Austro-German music and literature, from Bach to Wagner (yes, Wagner), and from Hölderlin to Heine and Rilke, and so much more suggests a self-replenishing core that can never be corrupted. That I hope would have provided the basis for my new faith.   

THE AGONIES OF CHOOSING A CD TO PLAY by Hugh Mather

Hugh has kindly allowed me to reproduce this most interesting article from his own blog at hmather@btopenworld.com Do respond if you can


Many readers will recall the excellent feature entitled ‘Too many records’ which used to feature in the much-lamented ‘International Record Review’ magazine.  I suspect the title strikes a chord with many of us.  I suppose I have about 2000 CDs and 1500 LPs, as well as about 300 opera and music DVDs.   This is a far cry from when I was a boy in the 1950’s, when I had about 20 precious LPs.   In those days I spent whole weeks playing them over and over again, until I could almost sing my way through the entire works.   The performances have lived with me ever since – Menuhin playing the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos, Milstein playing the Tchaikovsky, Gilels the Emperor, Solomon playing Beethoven 3 etc.

Fast forward to the present, and I have this huge over-accumulation of ‘canned’ music.  The chance of any single CD being played is infinitesimally small, and each new CD reduces it even further.   My LPs actually sound slightly better than the CDs, if one can ignore the clicks and plops and the suspicion of a slight ‘wobble’ from a warped disc, whether real or imagined. However the physical side of getting the record out of its sleeve and putting it on is a deterrent, so I rarely bother.   And when I decide to play a CD, I go to the shelves and try to select one of the 2000.   That’s when the problems start !   There is simply too much choice.

My CDs are arranged alphabetically – so do I go for some Bach, from the top shelf ?   If so what ?  And if a particular piece, which of the versions do I choose ? It reminds me of a child in a massive toy or sweet shop – there are so many ‘goodies’ that the act of choosing just one of them induces a sort of paralysis.   Or how about some Beethoven ?   How about say one of the symphonies ?   But I have about 6 sets – which shall I choose ?   How about Karajan – or Klemperer – or Haitink – or Colin Davis – or Barenboim – or Walter ?    (Obviously I will give period instrument performances a miss !)     And then which symphony shall I choose ?  Or how about a Beethoven piano sonata ?  But which particular sonata and which of my current 10 sets (ie 320 sonatas), will I listen to ?  Somehow the choice seems inordinately difficult and paralyzing – because of the over-abundance on offer !   After 5 minutes of this agonizing and painful indecision, verging on mental torture, I usually give up completely and see what’s on Radio 3 or Classic FM – or the telly !

I don’t think I am alone in having these problems.   Some people transfer all their CDs to a hard disk, but that doesn’t solve the problem of having to choose something to play, and which performance.   Those who use Spotify or other streaming service will have a similar problem.   I heard a neat solution described on the radio years ago by the late Norman Del Mar, the well-known conductor.  He stated (as I recall) that he had numbered all his recordings, and had devised some method of producing a random order of numbers.  Then he forced himself to stick to this order of CDs (or LPs) to be played.   I think I will have to survive long enough to receive the Queen’s telegram to achieve this with my current collection !  An alternative, which most readers will choose, is to surrender oneself to the choices of radio presenters – and be either irritated or pleasantly surprised, either by the pieces or the performers they choose.  And so my CDs will remain unplayed, on the shelf.

So the chances of any CDs being actually played is very small.   Paradoxically this doesn’t stop me reading all the CD magazines (particularly Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine) from cover to cover, and salivating over the prospect of buying yet more CDs, particularly those tempting box sets of great performers from years ago, now available at bargain basement prices.   I realize that much of the pleasure derived from buying them is the guilty thrill of the purchase, rather than actually listening to the CDs, which isn’t really feasible with all those recordings.  I don’t usually tell my wife.  So it is a sort of shopping addiction, but I suppose as secret vices go, it’s less harmful than most !   The only problem is putting up more and more shelves to house them, plus the guilt in knowing that they will, in all probability, never be played.   I would be interested to see if others suffer from the same sort of paradoxical paralysis, induced by having – literally – ‘too many records’ and too much choice.

Paul Liggins commented on THE AGONIES OF CHOOSING A CD TO PLAY by Hugh Mather

Hugh has kindly allowed me to reproduce this most interesting article from his own blog at hmather@btopenworld.com Do respond …

Hi Rob.
I can only empathise with Hugh (although no salt tears for someone who has 2000 plus CDs!)
and those of us with sizeable collections will know the feeling.
Mine are arranged not in alphabetical order but chronolgical ( ie Early, Baroque, Classical et c)
I find this much more helpful when indecision strikes as you can reflect on what sort of ‘mood’ you’re in, and once a period is chosen this should helpfully narrow down the choice.
Also Hugh can enjoy rearranging his music this way and discovering all those wonderful items that he, like me, has probably forgotten that he had.
However, convincing our wives that by doing this we’re actually doing something useful might prove a little more tricky!
Best
Paul