Elgar, Sibelius: Sibelius: Violin Concerto; Elgar: Violin Concerto

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar,Sibelius
LABELS: Testament
WORKS: Sibelius: Violin Concerto; Elgar: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Ida Haendel (violin); City of Birmingham SO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: SBT 1444

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There will be some for whom this release will be an answer to their prayers. The Ida Haendel/Simon Rattle Sibelius Concerto from the 1993 Proms quickly acquired legendary status – and listening to the closing pages of the Adagio, or the craggy ending of the finale, you can hear why. It’s strong playing – both emotionally and in the overall grasp of musical shape.

Taking the Adagio as slowly as Haendel does is hugely risky, but at no point does the tension or the expression penetration flag. Intonation isn’t always spot on (the only real flaw in her technical armoury), but if you’re caught up in the performance – and it’s very difficult not to be – that’s unlikely to matter too much. 

The Elgar is less convincing. The ending of the slow movement and the finale’s accompanied cadenza are wonderful – this, one feels, is how it ought to be. Yet the urgency, the fire – at times mounting to ferocity – to be heard in Elgar’s own conducting of the work is lacking. Rattle’s relatively expansive and easy-going introduction sets the tone for a lot of the performance.

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Still, at the very least it’s worth hearing, especially with such excellent live concert sound – the Royal Festival Hall’s notorious dryness was clearly given discreet cosmetic help. Stephen Johnson