Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1; Spohr: Violin Concerto No. 8 (CD review)

Hilary Hahn, violin; Oiji Oue, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.  DG B0007188-2.

Ms. Hahn makes much of the fact that the Paganini and Spohr Violin Concertos have qualities of bel canto in them--fine singing, beautiful voice--as well she should.  The Paganini, especially, has always been noted for its soaring lyrical elements, and Ms. Hahn makes the most of them, as advertised.  This is as sweet, as lyrical, as songlike, as expressive a Paganini Violin Concerto as one could imagine.

After the work's lengthy introduction, Ms. Hahn enters the Allegro with appropriate bravura, contrasted with a lovely, flowing second subject, taken at a tempo that emphasizes its poetic nature in opposition to the more flamboyant parts of the movement.  The middle Adagio is a poignant time-out, a reflective interlude before the zippy Rondo conclusion.  It is in this final section that Ms. Hahn's dramatic, lively, yet wholly engaging style holds one's attention most securely.  And it is here that she is able to demonstrate her most virtuosic technique.

Coupled with the Paganini is the Violin Concerto No. 8 by Paganini's direct contemporary, Louis Spohr, only two years Paganini's junior.  His Concerto, too, is one of song, but there could not be a greater contrast in showmanship.  The Paganini is all color and contrasts, glamour and high spirits; the Spohr is more sedate, more conventional, but equally attractive.

Although I still prefer Michael Rabin's 1960 and Perlman's 1971 realizations of the Paganini for their greater sparkle, there is no denying this new rendering by Hilary Hahn is one to consider.  Chalk up the excellent recording quality afforded her by DG engineers, too.  The sound is very dynamic and very well balanced, with a reasonably solid bass and decent stage depth.  Together, performance and sound make this an outstanding album.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa