Hilary Hahn Plays Beethoven and Bernstein

Hilary Hahn performs Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and Bernstein’s Serenade

The Beethoven violin concerto is one of the three major concertos for that instrument, along with the Brahms and the Tchaikovsky masterpieces. Hilary Hahn presents a solid, musical, and thoughtful interpretation of this piece. Clearly, earlier masters such as Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler, Elman, Perlman and many others established the standards of performance for this masterpiece. The challenge for Ms. Hahn was how to show us her own individuality and ideas, and perhaps to introduce us to some new insight which may not have been obvious in another interpreter’s performance.

I found the presentation of this music to be beautiful, with lovely phrasing, solid balance between soloist and orchestra, and emphasis on creating beauty, rather than showcasing pyrotechnics. Of particular note, for me, was the Cadenza at the end of the first movement: Ms. Hahn presented this in a somewhat slower tempo than usual, which allowed us to hear the interplay between multiple themes that she and the orchestra introduced to us prior to the playing of the Cadenza.

The hushed second movement is a nice contrast to the heroic themes of the first. Ms. Hahn produced a wonderful tone and was always nicely supported by the Baltimore Symphony, under David Zinman.

In the 3rd movement we’re back to a faster, dance-like tempo with an overall balanced dialog between the soloist and the orchestra.

 The Bernstein Serenade for Violin and Orchestra is an interesting pairing with the Beethoven. Written more than 150 years after Beethoven’s piece, we have an opportunity to hear a rarely-heard Bernstein composition. This is not musical theater; rather a free-form composition where Bernstein explores a number of different moods that offer many beautiful and thoughtful passages for the soloist and orchestra. In a sense this piece is Ms. Hahn’s way of saying: “Sure, you purchased this recording for the Beethoven concerto; Take a few minutes, though, to see what Bernstein did in his composition for my instrument…” I must say that I enjoyed the music a lot.

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