Bach: Violin Concertos (CD review)
This is one I nominated some years ago for a "Best of the Year" award. At least, it was an award winner with me. Except for a minor reservation about the sound, I can still recommend the disc with almost complete assurance.
Perhaps because Ms. Hahn was relatively young at age twenty-three when she recorded these pieces in 2002-03, she was able to bring to them a youthful vitality that is sometimes missing in the performances of older artists. Yet the vitality in no way suggests immaturity or reckless abandon. Indeed, it brings to the works a contemporary feeling, making them sound as though written in and for our own era. Ms. Hahn makes all three of Bach's familiar Violin Concertos sound new again through her lively, spirited, yet thoughtful interpretations.
I suppose some listeners might quibble that Ms. Hahn takes things a bit faster than most older, more-traditional violinists do, but her performances are much in keeping with today's historically informed style, though not as frenetic as some period-instruments groups perform the pieces. Anyway, if the Violin and Oboe Concerto that accompanies the Violin Concertos seems a bit more conservative by comparison, it is no less persuasive.
Ms. Hahn leads off Bach's three Violin Concertos on the album with possibly the most popular of the bunch, the E Major, BWV 1042, with its well-known opening movement running along as briskly yet as attractively as I've heard it. Of course, all three of the Violin Concertos begin with showstopping opening movements, followed by sublimely beautiful slow movements, and concluding with brash, often overexuberant finales. Even though I've never cared much for those finales as much as the rest of the music, even here Ms. Hahn brings a delightful sense of fun to the occasion, and she's splendidly accompanied by Jeffrey Kahane and the strings of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
My only quibble I alluded to earlier: it's about the depth of the sound, which is almost nil. The instruments are pretty much strung out along a straight line from left to right, with little sense of the group's size or shape. Otherwise, the sound is warm, smooth, well defined, terrifically well-balanced, and easy on the ear. For a modern recording of these Bach works played on modern instruments, this remains one of the best current choices, slightly eclipsing Grumiaux's old Philips recording in sound quality and almost everybody else in performance.
To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.