Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
After her last two albums of completely new compositions, “Silfra” and “In 27 Pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores”, Hilary returns with classic-romantic repertoire. Two-times Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn now combines Mozart’s beloved Concerto in A, K 219 – with its fiery “Turkish” episode – with the rich, virtuosic romanticism of Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto No. 4.
These two American violin concertos, written 60 years apart, were both commissioned for a young virtuoso but are basically songful and lyrical; indeed, though the Barber is now a staple of the repertoire, its beautiful first two movements were originally rejected as not effective enough, the brilliantly motoric Finale as too difficult. Meyer's was written in 1999 for Hilary Hahn, who premiered it last summer, and for whom nothing is too difficult. She seems equally at home in all the various styles Meyer combines with his usual inventiveness, making the lovely folksong-like melody, which opens the piece and reappears later, sing and soar, then turning into a bluegrass fiddler, swinging along and trading riffs with the orchestra, using drones to produce astonishing double stops, holding the listener's interest even when the music gets repetitious and static. She is a superb violinist, brilliant but not showy; her tone is strikingly beautiful, warm, pure, focused–and she can vary and intensify it with bow and vibrato. Her concentrated expressiveness never flags; she changes moods on a dime. The Barber has controlled passion and ecstasy, and a pensive, contemplative inwardness remarkable in a 19-year-old.
"The sound of her violin in both of these dramatic, operatic concertos is like an ultimate contralto voice, ranging from a rich, throbbing alto through a warm mezzo to a light, clear soprano . . . the Swedish Radio Symphony provides polished, robust accompaniment for Ms. Hahn as she sails gracefully through acrobatic passages and unfurls gleaming phrases with sumptuous tone." ~NY Times