Schoenberg and Sibelius: Violin Concertos (CD review)

Hilary Hahn, violin; Esa-Pekka Salonen, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. DG B0010858-02.

Is there anything Hilary Hahn can't handle with confidence? The Schoenberg Violin Concerto (1935) seemed so formidable when the composer wrote it that no less an artist than Jascha Heifetz initially refused to attempt it, saying a person would have to grow a sixth finger to play it. Indeed, the piece has never really caught on, and you'll find very few recordings of it. So, give Ms. Hahn credit for including the work along with Sibelius's far more-popular violin concerto.

The Schoenberg Concerto is at once modern, with harmonies and melodies going all over the place in rough juxtaposition, yet firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition in its customary three-movement configuration. Still, in Ms. Hahn's thoroughly doting and understanding hands, it comes off as quite accessible and, remarkably, as a concentrated whole rather than as a series of awkward gimmicks.

Ms. Hahn's handling of the Sibelius Violin Concerto (1905), too, is quite accomplished, although in this case so many other performers have recorded Sibelius's youthful work, with its dark, brooding opening, its meditative slow movement, and its vigorous finale, that Hahn's interpretation seems like just another contender. While it is a persuasive contender, to be sure, she has a lot of competition here, so it's probably not a first choice.

Deutsche Grammophon's audio is much as we have come to expect from this source. The DG engineers always seem to capture the sound of a solo instrument with great precision, and the violin has a strikingly vivid presence. Moreover, the dynamic range and impact are equally strong. Yet the overall orchestral accompaniment seems a bit too big and woolly by comparison and tends to stand out as slightly incongruous.

JJP

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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