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Dinner Starts with a Dessert

Konzerthaus Wien
05/13/2012 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata A-Major for Violin and Piano, op.12/2
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata A-minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1003
Johannes Brahms: Scherzo in C-minor for Violin and Piano
The Hilary Hahn Encores: works by Nico Muhly, Lera Auerbach, Jennifer Higdon, Søren Nils Eichberg, Avner Dorman, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Christos Hatzis & Max Richter

Hilary Hahn (violin), Cory Smythe (piano)

H. Hahn (© P. Miller/Courtesy of DG)

Hilary Hahn took a break from the promotion tour for her new improvisation album Sifra and presented for one last time this season her unconventional recital program at the Great Hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus. With New York based pianist Cory Smythe as congenial partner she served a menu of well known staples of the violin literature interspersed with contemporary miniatures.

The encore, by definition, comes last on a concert program. Not so this time: Hilary Hahn opened her recital with encores from her project In 27 pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores. Realizing the need for showcasing contemporary encore pieces, she commissioned 26 leading composers worldwide to write short pieces for violin and piano. For the 27th piece she launched an online contest and the winning encore will be revealed June 15th on her website. Hahn premiered the first set of encores during her world tour this season. She will take the remaining pieces on tour during the next season. In 2013/14 a recording of all 27 encores is scheduled for release by Deutsche Grammophon.

With Nico Muhly’s Two Voices Hilary Hahn set the tone for this recital: if you expected virtuosic fireworks and circus-like artistry this was the wrong event. Here, Hahn’s ability to evenly work out multiple voices in one long line anticipated the Bach Fugue later in the program. Lera Auerbach’s Speak, Memory is a haunting lullaby. Jennifer Higdon’s Echo Dash depicts a car race in a videogame. In fact, it sounds like Czerny competing with Schradiek. Hahn and Smythe seemed to enjoy themselves and we couldn’t figure out who came in first!

Higdon’s piece was the perfect eye-opener, or rather ear-opener, for Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A-Major. Hilary Hahn and Cory Smythe playfully performed the Sonata in that same gaming spirit, and I would have loved to hear Echo Dash repeated after the sonata again. Cory Smythe with his crystal clear touch was the ideal partner for Hilary Hahn’s impeccable, dazzling sound. Both artists don’t need big gestures – they are spectacularly unspectacular in their quest to pay justice to the composer.

The first part of the recital closed with Søren Nils Eichberg’s tranquil Levitation and Avner Dorman’s jazzy, video-game inspired Memory Games.

The core piece, the main course of the dinner, was Bach’s 2nd Solo Sonata in A-minor. Writing about Hilary Hahn playing Bach is like selling refrigerators to the Inuit. Her rendition, as expected, was simply magnificent. Whether you still remember Karl Richter and his sumptuous Bach interpretations or whether you are an Early Music purist: Hilary Hahn is your common denominator. The Grave was played with full but never too heavy sound. Hahn played the devilishly difficult fugue with greatest ease, acting as mediator between the composer and audience in revealing the different voices. Her grasp of the work’s architecture was most evident in the Adagio. In the Allegro the unimaginable happened: Hilary Hahn had a tiny slip – now we know she is human after all!

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Whispering brought to mind Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.” Christos Hatzis’ Coming to was probably the most programmatic of the encores, not typical for his oeuvre at all. Hatzis was the only composer present, and his easily accessible piece earned him warm applause when Hahn called him on stage.

The most substantial new work of the evening was the last encore, Max Richter’s Mercy. This was the complete opposite of one’s common idea of an encore: no fancy-schmanzy virtuosity, no breakneck runs, no summersaults. Instead, a straight forward, transparent, sober melodic line, hauntingly performed by Hahn and Smythe. In the program notes Richter was quoted comparing his encore to a dessert after a heavy roast beef. Tonight however the roast beef followed the sorbet: Brahms’ hefty Scherzo from the F-A-E Sonata was somewhat hard to digest.

Hahn and Smythe thanked the enthusiastic audience with – you guessed right – 2 more encores from the 27 set: Blue Fiddle by Paul Moravec, which she dedicated to Mothers on this Mother’s Day, and the lofty Solitude d’automne by Bun-Ching Lam.

We look forward to Hilary Hahn’s next menu creation.

Hilary Hahn’s Website

Wiebke Kuester



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