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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 (1905)  [33:11]
Hilary Hahn (violin)
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]
Experience Classicsonline


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 Schoenberg.
 
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.
 
Ewan McCormick
 

 


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