Hilary Hahn Plays Higdon & Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos

Hilary Hahn / Vasily Petrenko / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

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Hilary Hahn Plays Higdon & Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos Review

by James Manheim

This was what it used to be like in classical music: a hot young soloist offers a newly commissioned work along with a fresh interpretation of a warhorse, and it's released with some fanfare on a major label. It doesn't happen that often anymore, but Hilary Hahn, a student of the last student of Eugène Ysaÿe, shows that there's life in the old model yet. The new work was commissioned by Hahn herself and grew out of her association with the composer, Jennifer Higdon, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The concerto won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2010, and Higdon's colorfully orchestrated music in general has been popular among American orchestras. But the concerto is closely tailored to Hahn's individual style, with its combination of steely flawlessness and delicate lyricism. Whether it will take off among other performers remains to be seen, but a real marriage of composer and performer comes through here (and of course the virtuoso concertos of the 19th century all had their individual champions). But it comes off beautifully here, unfolding with seeming inevitability from the lovely opening passage in harmonics through the beautifully orchestrated first movement in which the violin engages in both solo heroics and dialogues with various orchestral groupings; the flute, Higdon's own instrument, is prominently featured. The movement's title, "1726," refers not to any neo-Baroque quality one might expect from the "Chaconi" slow movement of multiple ground basses, but to the street address of the Curtis Institute. It's unclear how the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko were chosen for this project, but they keep up well with a difficult new score. Hahn's take on the Tchaikovsky Violin Concert in D major, Op. 35, isn't a barn-burner, but is quite persuasive, with a precise control of pitch that never becomes robotic because the texture of her violin sound, from pearly to wiry, is so lively and constantly in motion. Hahn's tempos are on the slow side, and she tends to open up a line rather than blaze through it. It's not a peformance that will bring you to your feet, but it does hang in the mind. Another engrossing release from one of America's strongest young violinists. Booklet notes, with a reflection by Hahn along with more formal notes by Lynne S. Mazza, are in English only.

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