Hilary Hahn's Paris AlbumMarch 21 2021
It’s been a while since I intently listened to a new music album, and this recent release from Hilary Hahn was generally a joy. I think of a Hilary Hahn album as having a very high floor. You know you’re always going to get perfect intonation, impeccable articulation and clarity, and a solid and present sound. This album is no exception. Ultimately, the Prokofiev is not my favorite rendition (that would be Vengerov’s), but overall it’s a very good album of music.
The album starts with Chausson’s Poeme, then Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and ends with Rautavaara’s two Violin Serenades. The Rautavaara serenades were published posthumously, and the second one was incomplete, and completed by one of Rautavaara’s students. I believe this might be the debut album for both serenades, but I’m not entirely sure.
My review focuses more on the Prokofiev than the other pieces. The first Prokofiev violin concerto is one of my personal favorite violin concertos. When I started listening to it as a teenager, it was one of the pieces that triggered my transformation from someone who played the violin to someone who absolutely loved the violin. It’s definitely not very popular in the concert hall, but it is in my opinion a truly violinistic concerto. It makes use of every facet of a violin, from gorgeous, lyrical singing sections, to incredibly high notes, to very fast, quick sections, to several interesting double stop sections.
Hahn’s Prokofiev is…ok. She really excels in the technical sections, particulaly the middle part of the first movement and the fiendishly difficult second movement. Her playing in those sections is so clean and articulate. You really can hear every single note. She also takes a very aggressive tempo in the first movement, perhaps the fastest I’ve heard.
Where I found the album a bit lacking is in the singing and lyrical sections. Hahn has never had a very vibrant vibrato. It’s there and pleasant, but Hahn tends to keep it the same and it doesn’t vary or always match the character of the passage. The other weird thing about the lyrical sections is Hahn uses a very solid sound, sometimes even attacking the beginnings of notes. It seems out of character to me. The start of the first movement is this long, meandering journey upward, almost like a voyage of discovery. I think Hahn ruins a little by making the sound so present in the beginning, there wasn’t really anywhere for the long phrase to go.
The Chausson is not my favorite piece, but it does get played a lot and it has a very memorable (and melancholy) melody. Hahn’s playing is great, but suffers a bit from the vibrato and note articulation problems as in the Prokofiev.
The Rautavaara pieces are interesting tonally, but not melodically. The first one reminds me a lot of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It is slow moving, and moves from chord to chord. The difference is that the Barber Adagio has this forward propulsion and momentum, whereas the Rautavaara just seems to meander in place. In fact, it just ends. The second serenade is similar, but there is a bit more variety and movement. Regardless, they seem like wonderful pieces to have on in the background, but they are a bit boring for active listening.
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