Hilary Hahnís outstanding November recital proved
that the young Americanís growing reputation is very well deserved,
but it nevertheless took Hahn some time to settle into the intimacy
of the Wigmore Hall. Brahmsí Violin Sonata no 2 in A op.100
was unmemorable and understated, and Hahn seemed afraid of taking
risks; portamento and lyrical passion were notable by their absence.
Hahnís generally secure intonation was let down by some uncomfortably
sharp G-string playing Ė a peculiarity which occurred a number of times
throughout the recital.
After this somewhat tentative start, Hahn relaxed into
her programme with panache and style. Bachís Solo Violin Sonata no
1 in G minor BWV1001 - as released on her legendary all-Bach debut
CD in 1997 - was immaculate, Hahn successfully achieving a perfect balance
of the individual voices within the texture. Her sense of line was decisive
yet beautiful, and the chordal sections of the fugue were stunningly
clean and expressive.
Mozartís Violin Sonata in F K377 demonstrated
the superbly full-bodied sound of which Hahn (playing on a Vuillaume
violin) is capable. Although the sound could have been more varied on
occasion, Hahnís complete control and technical mastery ensured that
her playing penetrated to every corner of the hall.
As with the Brahms sonata, Saint-Saënsí Sonata
no 1 in D minor op 75
required more passion and spontaneity than Hahn was prepared
to give. A little extra variation in phrasing would have enhanced what
was already a poised and tonally beautiful interpretation. Her stage
presentation suffered from the same constriction Ė walking on and off-stage
seemed to be a subdued and formulaic process, which added a certain
visual numbness to the proceedings.
Pianist Natalie Zhu was a superlative partner
where the music demanded it (an astonishing violin-piano unison passage
in the Saint-Saëns sonata lingers in the memory), and a sensitive,
unobtrusive accompanist elsewhere; intricate passagework - notably in
the Mozart sonata - was dispatched with nonchalant ease.
One thing is still unclear - why does Hahn have such
an aversion to virtuosity? Even her encores on this occasion included
works by Bach and Stravinsky, rather than showpieces of Paganini or
Sarasateís genre. It is hard to believe that someone of Hahnís technical
accomplishment would turn away from such sweetmeats, yet to date her
discography consists solely of heavyweight musical works, including
several of the great concerti. Perhaps this is very clever planning;
Hahn took an enormous musical gamble by releasing a debut disc of Bach,
but the success of such a bold statement has reinforced her credentials
as a musician of the highest calibre, leaving her free to explore the
violin repertoire without fear of being accused of frivolity. Hilary
Hahn is already one of the most exciting young violinists of the current
generation, but once she achieves a greater freedom of spontaneity and
passion, she has the potential to become a very great violinist indeed.
Simon Hewitt Jones & David Worswick