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Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53 (1883)
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Violin Concerto, Op 30 (1963)
Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
Carmen Fantasy, Op 25 (1882)
Hilary Hahn (violin)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrés Orizco-Estrada
rec. 2021, hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt

It takes programmatic gumption to pair Dvořák’s Violin Concerto with that of Ginastera but that’s what Hilary Hahn has done. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first or, to put it another away, my own sense of disappointment with the Dvořák.

There have been numerous recordings of this work over the last decade and many have been poor. Sometimes it’s the violinist, sometimes the conductor and sometimes, as here, both. Hahn and Orizco-Estrada seem to have been seduced into a post-pandemic lassitude so that the music’s vitality, its folkloric rhythms and its energy have been smoothed over. I’ve never found Hahn an especially emotionally generous exponent but here her approach is to elasticate phrases to such an extent, especially in the first movement, that energy is sucked out of the music. Yes, she’s a technically refined player and her intonation is spot-on, but I’d trade less of that for a sense of forward-moving momentum. Interpretatively, she is excessively introspective but without expressive density of sound and the result is one-sided. This feeling seeps into the slow movement where it would be acceptable on its own account but even here the music sounds subjected to an overall conception, the weight of which cannot be borne. A ‘ma non troppo’ indication for the finale modifies the ‘Allegro giocoso’ and encourages a mid-course approach in which the winds generate a loquacious interplay predicated on chamber intimacy. But, really, by now the damage has been done and the folkloric accents that drive the music forward with exhilarating dancing rhythms have gone missing.

There have been a handful of previous recordings of Ginastera’s fearsome, fascinating 1963 concerto. The premiere, given by its dedicatee Ruggiero Ricci with Leonard Bernstein, was recorded and has appeared on One-Eleven and much more recently on Rhine Classics. Accardo (Dynamic) has also recorded it as has Andrew Wan (on Analekta, with Kent Nagano). From its opening five-minute cadenza this draws from soloist and conductor a much more focused and emotively cogent response than the Dvořák which, coupled with instrumental finesse, presents the concerto in the best possible light. Sonically and architecturally, this is a one-off concerto, and its pellucid moments – the fifth Studi in the first movement is a particularly fine example – add to its sense of completeness. Ginastera builds up a sense of amplitude not through blocks of sound but rather through precise placement of material, a recurrent feature of the slow movement. He unleashes the soloist in the Perpetuum mobile that ends the work in a hazy blaze of instrumental vitesse. In a sense the lack of a tradition in this work seems to have unshackled Hahn and Orizco-Estrada and given them requisite freedom interpretively.

As a dessert they play Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy which Decca has divided into five separate tracks. Hahn bows crisply but I miss a sense of swagger.

If you buy this reasonably well engineered disc it should be for the Ginastera and you’ll get a somewhat unsuccessful, partial Dvořák as some kind of bonus.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: November 24, 2022

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