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RECITAL REVIEW

Violinist Hilary Hahn

PRISTINE CONTROL, SUBDUED EMOTION

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hilary Hahn’s April 27 Weill Hall recital found the violinist entering the stage without her instrument, beginning ten minutes of comments about the program. She does these introductions well, and most of the audience enjoyed the discourse comparing Schubert's Fantasia for Violin with Schoenberg’s thorny Phantasy for Violin, and her recent commissioning project of 27 encore pieces.

And it was with this fresh set that she began with Welsh composer Richard Barrett’s three-minute “Shade,” a skittering tour de force of spiccato bow effects and eerie mystery. The sound had a scary edge, stopping and starting, and pianist Cory Smythe had the last word with a rich soft bottom B note.

Anton Garcia Abril’s Tres Suspiros followed, the three parts spotlighting Ms. Hahn’s superb bow control that allowed her to fashion the small thematic snippets in the first and third movements with aplomb. There is more than a little Messiaen here, and in the third movement the duo deftly played long phrase endings. The solo violin second movement had a lovely controlled pianissimo and a flavor of gypsy rhythms.

Schoenberg’s Op. 47 Phantasy was played very well, but I must admit I have never connected with it as I do with the Viennese master’s Violin Concerto. Ms. Hahn’s focus, intensity and stamina were admirable throughout this vexing work from 1949. The piano part is often furtive, and Ms. Hahn’s multiple tone skips were pristine.

Closing the first half was Mozart’s A Major Sonata, K. 305. The music fell warmly on the ear after the pesky Schoenberg. The playing struck an argumentative note in the first movement, and in the concluding variations the pianist’s subdued legato playing contrasted with the soloist’s marvelous tone, smoothly changing from dry to florid. That said, it’s one of Mozart’s least interesting sonatas, albeit well laid out for both piano and violin.

Two works comprised the second half, preceded again by Ms. Hahn’s remarks to the audience of 1,200: Telemann’s E Minor Fantasie for solo violin (TWV 40:19) and Schubert’s C Major Fantasia, D. 934. The Fantasie was played without score and was faultless in all registers. These were gallant dances with contrapuntal twists galore, a Baroque delight that made one want a Bach Partita from Ms. Hahn’s magical instrument.

In the protracted Schubert piece, Mr. Symthe was an attentive but not virtuoso pianist, playing sporadic muddy scale passages and beginning far too loudly. Here the music for both instruments needs to carefully grow from silence. A long held note in the violin led effortlessly to the rondo theme, emphasizing the long arch of rarified lyricism. In the opening slow section, Ms. Hahn used portamento rarely, but in the many repeats played them with variety: here a diminuendo, there a less forceful character or a tad less vibrato. She has a consummate and delicate pizzicato technique with at times intriguing inflections.

The 26-minute performance had a triumphant and majestic finale, each musician trading motives in a celebratory way leading to an exciting finish.

Responding to a standing ovation, the violinist played Max Richter’s “Mercy,” a threnody work that has sounds like Pärt or new-age music. But here it was mesmerizing with long decrescendos and, as always, Ms. Hahn’s subtle control of pianissimo and bow position. Slow piano chords were in the background, leaving the yearning and delicate work to a violinist at the top of her game. It was an encore that had a certain emotional impact that was lacking in the recital proper.

Violinist Mischa Hubermann contributed to this review