Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Bernstein: Serenade. Hilary Hahn, violin; David Zinman, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Sony SK 60584.

The first question one must ask of any release of an oft-recorded work like the Beethoven Violin Concerto is why? What can a new performance, especially one from an artist as young as Ms. Hahn was at the time of the recording, say that hasn't already been said by seasoned performers like Heifetz, Perlman, Kremer, Szeryng, and the rest? Or, for the audiophile, what can Sony's sound do to improve upon the catalogue's previous recordings? The answers in the case of this album are because, a little, and not a lot. 

This isn't to say I disliked the disc. The Beethoven is sweet, and the companion piece, the  Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion by Leonard Bernstein, is charming. In fact, it is the Serenade that works best, which is surprising considering that Ms. Hahn apparently just recently learned it before recording it here in the late Nineties, while the Beethoven has long been a staple of her repertoire (well, not too long; she wasn't very old at the time).

Hilary Hahn
Anyway, about the Beethoven, Ms. Hahn takes a fairly tenderhearted approach to the Beethoven, caressing the work in poetic fashion while perhaps missing the bravura elements slightly when compared to several of her elders mentioned above. She is not nearly so incisive, so electrifying, as Heifetz (RCA), for example, nor so direct yet grandiose as Szerying (Philips). She is amply supported by David Zinman, the Baltimore Symphony, and the Sony engineers as waves of big, warm, dynamic, natural orchestral sound come pouring down around her. True, she is sometimes in danger of being washed away by the sound, but she manages to hold her own. One goes away from the Beethoven with a feeling that one has heard it anew--a kinder, gentler Beethoven than one may be used to, an interpretation that is more congenial than usual. 

Still, it is not a disc I would recommend to first-time buyers.  I would suggest one stick with the others I've mentioned, instead. On the other hand, if you really love the composer's work and are collecting different approaches to it, by all means you should go ahead. You won't be disappointed.

Now, about Sony's packaging: The fold-out booklet is about as easy to manage as a road map in the wind. It unfolds to about three feet long, drooping over one's arms as one tries to read it. Thanks, Sony. For those listeners interested in what Ms. Hahn looks like, Sony has also included eight separate photographs of her: on the front cover, the back cover, and within the booklet itself. There's everything here but a poster of the lady. Maybe next time.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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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