By John J. Puccio
On the current recording she turns her prodigious talent to the works of Dvorak (Violin Concerto), Ginastera (Violin Concerto), and Sarasate (Carmen Fantasy). She says she chose these three composers because she wanted to do a “deep dive in the Dvorak Violin Concerto,” has an “obsession with the tantalizing, magical weirdness of Ginastera’s Violin Concerto,” and has an “inhabitation of Sarastate’s spirited Carmen Fantasy.”
The program begins with the Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). He wrote it in 1879, intending it for the eminent Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, but Joachim, a noted traditionalist, objected to a number of elements in the concerto and never played it in public.
Anyhow, Dvorak begins the concerto with an Allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too much), the "ma non troppo" marking used in all three movements, and the violin entering almost immediately. Joachim may have felt that the orchestra dominated the proceedings too much, but Dvorak made some revisions before premiering it. Here, both soloist and orchestra share equal billing, with Ms. Hahn’s virtuosic playing heading up a spirited account of the music. It’s perhaps a bit intimidating compared to, say, Itzhak Perlman’s rendering for EMI/Warner, who is a tick more relaxed though no slower. Still, Ms. Hahn gives us a bracing interpretation, and it may be enough for some listeners, especially fans, to enjoy.
In the Finale Dvorak returns to the tuneful Czech folk melodies of the opening movement, and Ms. Hahn takes special delight in them. Still, I did not find Ms. Hahn’s overall reading quite as light-footed, as nimble, as dexterous as those of Perlman (EMI/Warner), Mutter (DG), or Barton Pine (Avie), so I could not count it among the best recorded performances available. Still, there is no question it’s a formidable version, vigorous and heady.
In addition to the Dvorak concerto, Ms. Hahn performs the Violin Concerto, op. 30 by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). For me, this was the highlight of the album. The piece is divided into eleven short segments, each of them a little weirder than the previous one, and each of them rendered with consummate skill. It’s as though Ms. Hahn is relishing every bizarre moment of the score, and she communicates her enthusiasm easily to the listener. The Dvorak may be the album’s draw, but the Ginastera is the keeper.
Ms. Hahn closes the show with a genuine show-stopper, the Carmen Fantasy by the Spanish violinist, conductor, and composer Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908). It is, of course, a well-known violin fantasy in five brief movements, adapted from the music of Bizet’s opera Carmen. The piece requires a good deal of delicacy from the violinist as well as an abundance of musical gymnastics, all of which Ms. Hahn negotiates with ease.
Producers Christoph Clasen and Hilary Hahn and engineer Philipp Knop recorded the album at hr-Sendesaal and Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany in April and June 2021. The miking has nicely captured the violin in regard to the orchestra, not too far in front and centrally positioned. The violin tone is also realistically rendered, if a touch bright at the upper end. So is the orchestra, which can be very dynamic but somewhat forward and, at times, a trifle intrusive. To my ears it’s more of a “hi-fi” sound than a purely natural one.