Higdon & Tchaikovsky
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2010
The combination of Jennifer Higdon’s and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto could be considered odd and unusual. Hilary Hahn, hovewer, thinks that «these full-scale, grandly conceived concertos […] illuminate each other. While they come from different centuries and compositional worlds, they share a great many qualities: lyrical delicacy, a brooding gentility, energetic abandon, and a fine maturity of spirit. Placed back to back, they suggest the range of musical possibilities open to the violin in the early twenty-first century».
This amazing recording starts exactly from these premises. Regardless if you listen to Higdon’s or Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, you will realize that there are two entirely new experiences. In the case of the contemporary concerto, this impression depends on the fact that it is a rather recent composition; in the case of the old “classic”, it will depend on the fact that Hahn transforms it into a rediscovery.
Higdon’s Violin Concerto
The album opens with Higdon’s Violin Concerto, composed in 2008. From the very beginning, the impression is that something tense but not nervous is going on. It is an aspiration to something higher. The Violin Concerto is remarkable for the perfect interaction of the violin with the members of the orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, that from time to time alternate with it. Their chemistry is so good that the effect is similar to that of an electric shock.
Hahn has all the chances to show her technical skills (notable above all in the cadenza at the end of the first movement) and commitment, alternating passages where she is able to express intense lyrism and moments full of energy, where she gives the best sample of her technical virtuosity. Her playing is resolute, but also refined and elegant, and for this reason her performance is enthralling and lively. Overall, Hahn leaves a strong impression on the listener.
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto
Hahn’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is a sort of miracle. Never before her – and, perhaps, never after – it happened to me to listen to this popular masterpiece in a way that gives prominence with such sensitivity and intensity to its colours and feelings.
The Concerto opens without flamboyance, almost on the sly. The first movement (Allegro moderato) is characterized by a careful attention to tempos, which are more or less fast depending on the expressive needs. After the short orchestral introduction, Hahn takes the necessary time to represent with precision her feelings, setting once an for all the dreamy and romantic atmosphere that will accompany us throughout the Concerto. However, time arrives for virtuosic display too and there Hahn forgets her abandon to music in favour of more vivacious feelings with fervour and technical brilliance.
Hahn’s best moment is the long cadenza at the other end of the movement. In this cadenza, she gives her very personal interpretation which, for its beauty, is worth the entire Concerto. Her strength, tenderness, elegance and her taste could have been enough to charm anyone, but then she adds something more, because it seems that she is trying to make the violin sound like a human voice – an effect that is particularly brilliant and effective in the high notes.
Andante and Allegro vivacissimo
The two other movements are not as wonderful of the first one, but only because this is so perfect that really there would be no need to add anything else. Without the Allegro moderato, anyway, the Andante and the Allegro vivacissimo would have been absolutely admirable pieces. The Andante is characterized by a rather melancholic colour, due first and foremost to the sad inclination of the violin. The Allegro vivacissimo is instead a long moment of amusement and Hahn plays it with infectious joy, apart from some “pauses” where other nuances seems to have the same meaning of second thoughts.
Jennifer Higdon and Pyotr Tchaikovsky have definitely found in Hilary Hahn one of their most gifted and intelligent interpreters. Thanks to her sound technique and, even more, to her sensitivity, Hahn offers an extraordinary performance of both Violin Concertos, characterized by refinement and communicativeness, and capable of revealing something new and deep about two true gems of the repertoire for violin.