Elgar: Violin Concerto; Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

Hilary Hahn / Colin Davis / London Symphony Orchestra

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Elgar: Violin Concerto; Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending Review

by James Manheim

Violinist Hilary Hahn had made several critically acclaimed recordings before this 2004 outing, some of them as a teenage phenomenon. But perhaps it was this reading of Elgar's Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61, that served notice on the musical world: here was one of the foremost violinists of our time. The Elgar concerto is a punishing, long, difficult work that requires the player to keep hold of the long-distance plan while touching the listener's emotions at many individual junctures, and Hahn succeeds in every way. Elgar called the concerto "awfully emotional, too emotional, but I love it," and the fact that it was written for Fritz Kreisler has led some to prefer more vibrato-laden readings than the one delivered here. Elgar did conduct the premiere performance with Kreisler, but that did not close the book on possible readings, and Hahn's more Apollonian tone has spectacular results here. Sample the finale, starting about a minute in, and note the charisma and total aplomb with which she approaches the effusions of passagework and ornament. Her control over the long arc leads to exciting climaxes in both outer movements. Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending is a calm performance that will take the listener into the stratosphere for good, and the accompaniment to both works by the London Symphony Orchestra ranks among the great accomplishments of the aged Sir Colin Davis. Only inexplicably reedy sound from Deutsche Grammophon mars this masterwork, but the sound is still likely better than than that of the classic recordings with which this one can bear comparison.

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