Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra Op.36 (1936) [29:43] Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, Op.47
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen rec. Stockholm, Swedish Radio, Berwaldhallen,
March 2007 (Sibelius); September 2007 (Schoenberg). DDD DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
477 7346 [63:00]
Hilary Hahn writes in
her introductory notes for this CD of her reactions on hearing
these twentieth century concertos for the first time; as
a youngster she was “mystified” by the Sibelius, while feeling
instantly drawn, at a more mature age, to that of Arnold
The Sibelius became part of her repertoire fairly early
in her career but after a number of performances, in her
own words she “put it aside for a while”. It was the late
Siegfried Palm who introduced Hahn to Schoenberg’s music
at the Marlboro Music Festival in 1997; intrigued by the
composer’s musical style she began to study the Violin Concerto.
It was her thoughtful, questing approach to the Schoenberg,
a work which, by her own admission, significantly broadened
her musical horizons, that in turn led Hahn to reconsider
the Sibelius concerto in a new light.
In placing these two works on one disc - a unique coupling
- Hahn “wanted to pair the Schoenberg with something that
would reflect its dark lyrical side, as well as its playfulness,
from an unexpected angle. The Sibelius concerto seemed to
me the perfect foil. The Sibelius is often presented as either
a highly Romantic work, or as very cold, but I think that
it carries within it other aspects that don't always rise
to the surface in traditional couplings. I thought that the
Schoenberg and the Sibelius, side-by-side, might bring out
unexpected nuances in each other."
It’s a coupling that works extremely well in practice.
Hahn emphasises the romantic elements inherent in the Schoenberg
- its composer was a great Brahmsian, after all - bringing
out the music’s expressive content in a way that some of
its predecessors on disc have not always managed. Despite
fine performances on disc by performers such as Zvi Zeitlin
and Pierre Amoyal, Hahn’s involvement and temperament add
a new dimension to this score, coupled with delicacy and,
most importantly, accuracy. The concerto is technically demanding
- Heifetz famously commented that it ideally required a six-fingered
soloist - and not all performances have satisfactorily balanced
passion and precision. Louis Krasner’s pioneering recording
with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic (available
as an MP3 download from ClassicsOnline) certainly has plenty
of pioneering spirit but contains several inaccuracies; hardly
surprising given the work’s then unfamiliarity and the fact
that, according to Mitropoulos’s biographer William Trotter,
the recording was made virtually in one take as session time
was running out.
Hahn spent several years studying the work before including
it in several concert performances. The performance enshrined
here is, therefore, the result of considered study and practical
experience. With a soloist of Hahn’s calibre and Esa-Pekka
Salonen in charge we can have no concerns regarding musical
values, and can concentrate on enjoying the performance.
Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto will never be a repertoire piece – its
challenges are too daunting for most audiences. However Hahn
and Salonen together make a very fine case for it and I would
say that this is now the best version of the piece on disc.
The Sibelius coupling is also very fine. One senses
that Hahn’s artistic imagination has been fired by the Viennese
master’s work; the Sibelius is much more of a repertoire
piece and Hahn has approached the work from a twenty-first
century standpoint, as it were, accentuating the more forward-looking
aspects of the score while slightly underplaying the emotional
elements. Salonen has recorded this concerto several times
with an array of soloists; here he ensures that Sibelius’s
dark orchestration is heard to best advantage.
An excellent disc, particularly for the revelatory recording
of Schoenberg’s concerto. The recording is superb.
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