SIBELIUS; SCHOENBERG Violin Concertos – Hahn
Some years ago RCA's ace producer Jack Pfeiffer told me how, every now and again, Jascha Heifetz would open the score of Schoenberg's Concerto only to close it again with a perplexed shrug. Years earlier Schoenberg had personally sent Heifetz the score and the reaction was much the same. Heifetz just didn't get it, but he did at least try. What I wonder would he have made of this magnificent recording by Hilary Hahn? When the last chord sounds its full stop, the sense of satisfied finality is exhilarating. Hahn has the full of measure of the piece, its gawky lyricism, ethereal filigree and cripplingly difficult cadenzas (awkward chords galore), all rendered seemingly effortless. Wisps of old-world Vienna echo from the Andante, whereas in a performance of this calibre the finale's complex acrobatics suddenly have musical meaning. Of course having a first-rate orchestra and conductor helps: Esa-Pekka Salonen's direction is in the very best sense of the term “slick”, a perfect example of musical badinage, alert, crystal-clear and superbly recorded. Which makes the CD mandatory listening both for lovers of the work who crave an appreciative performance and for doubters who still await conversion.
The Sibelius performance is fascinating but less wholly convincing although as with the Schoenberg Hahn weaves a seductive, evenly deployed tone and her technique is impeccable. But while in the Schoenberg you sense a palpable level of emotional engagement Hahn's approach to Sibelius is cool, sphinx-like one might say, the first movement's many solo passages broadly drawn but somehow remote. No violinist currently performing makes a lovelier sound and although time and again I would note some illuminating phrase (not to mention Salonen's immaculately groomed accompaniment) the sum effect is of a strangely cold beauty. But the Schoenberg performance is, as I say, magnificent.