Bach: Violin Concertos (CD review)

Also, Oboe and Violin Concerto. Hilary Hahn, violin; Jeffrey Kahane, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. DG B0000986-02.

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:

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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.

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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