HILARY HAHN SIMPLY SHINES IN THESE ROMANTIC VIRTUOSO SHOWPIECES Star violinist Hilary Hahn performs violin concertos by two predominant violin virtuosos of the early Romantic era, Italian Niccolo Paganini and German Lo... more »uis Spohr. Both concertos were composed around 1816 to serve as effective showpieces for their composers┬? tour activities and are packed with stunningly virtuosic figures, beautiful cantilenas, and dramatic effects that were intended to leave the audience breathless and helped to establish the violinists┬? legendary status. Hilary Hahn has the superior technique needed to tackle even the most difficult figures and to make this music shine. Her performances of the Paganini Concerto have been hailed by critics: "Hilary Hahn, this queen of Apollonian clarity and compelling concentration . . . In her playing the wondrously singing lyrical passages were a response to the flawless ecstasy of supreme violinistic artistry." (S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung)« less
HILARY HAHN SIMPLY SHINES IN THESE ROMANTIC VIRTUOSO SHOWPIECES Star violinist Hilary Hahn performs violin concertos by two predominant violin virtuosos of the early Romantic era, Italian Niccolo Paganini and German Louis Spohr. Both concertos were composed around 1816 to serve as effective showpieces for their composersÂ? tour activities and are packed with stunningly virtuosic figures, beautiful cantilenas, and dramatic effects that were intended to leave the audience breathless and helped to establish the violinistsÂ? legendary status. Hilary Hahn has the superior technique needed to tackle even the most difficult figures and to make this music shine. Her performances of the Paganini Concerto have been hailed by critics: "Hilary Hahn, this queen of Apollonian clarity and compelling concentration . . . In her playing the wondrously singing lyrical passages were a response to the flawless ecstasy of supreme violinistic artistry." (SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung)
Steven M. Ziolkowski | New York, NY, United States | 10/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Well, its mostly a happy, festive storm (the Paganini) and a sometimes melancholy, but sometimes tense calm (the Spohr).
My limitations in reviewing this: I am a guitarist and have a much deeper background in rock/pop/alt./indie than classical. My classical vocabulary is limited. But I have amassed quite a classical collection over the past year.
My biases in reviewing this: I think Hilary Hahn could walk on water if she tried. But while I love her Beethoven and Brahms, I am not as drawn to her Elgar or Barber. So I think I can be fair.
The Paganini seems written to show off as many of the violinist's skills as possible, and Hilary takes full advantage of the opportunity. There are plenty of trills, runs that move over large ranges of notes and lots of double stops, all played effortlessly, flawlessly and with emotion. Especially astounding is a section at the end of the first movement which involves runs that are played with a sliding effect, instead of punctuated. The piece as a whole really is festive (think cymbal crashes), with intermittent slower passages but always a joy. I do not think it will ever move me as much as the Beethoven or Brahms, but it is a different kind of composition.
As if Hilary heard the "bravos" after the Paganini, the Spohr provides the perfect encore. As if to acknowledge that we all need a rest, the Spohr is about half the length of the Paganini, and much less showy -- but dramatic and thoroughly satisfying. The perfect calm after the perfect storm!
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 01/25/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Having anticipated Hilary Hahn's approach to these two romantic and virtuosic scores, I wasn't prepared for the kind of disappointment I recieved when I finally heard the CD. While Paganini and Spohr were great virtuosi in their day -- and these two concertos are supposed to present that virtuosity -- Hahn disappoints badly in the Paganini. She is aided in no part by the completely inadequate support she receives from Eiji Oue and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Hahn is simply too reticent and uninvolved as a virtuoso in her performance of the Paganini Concerto No. 1. Her first movement technique is OK but her tone is thin and she consistently underwhelms where she should be burning up the bow. Her langourous pace leads to a performance of Emile Sauret's cadenza one might call the "wanderer" cadenza where she meanders musically with no apparent destination.
It's more of the same in the second movement, where Hahn's slow, almost lifeless, approach bleeds the life out of the score. She picks up markedly in the third movement where her initial double stops lead to a wiry tone that neither represents nor suits her. Still, this is the best section in this performance.
In the far less technically challenging Concerto No. 8 by Spohr, Hilary responds more naturally to the fluid lyrical style of the composition, which better suits her dreamy romance. Unfortunately, the 19-minute concerto is lightweight and hardly a match for the Paganini. You might like it but you won't listen to it very often.
Hahn receives terrible support in both concertos by Oue and the Swedish group. When Oue (pronounced o-WAY) was conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, I asked my friend in Minneapolis about him. "Most people wish he would just go away," he responded. You know why after listening to his disastrous support here.
While I give Oue points for trying to spruce up Paganini's concerto, no amount of denial can hide the dull booming timpani strokes that arrive in almost every phrase of orchestral support. It begins sounds more like a bunch of books falling off a shelf onto a metal floor than timpani after while, as if Hilary's recorded was digitally inserted into a disaster film score.
Oue's timing and imagination could be replaced by a metronome, so repetitive is his phrasing throughout the piece. He provides less mechanical support in the Spohr but it is bland and the orchestral palette is filmy. The orchestra also has intonation and pitch problems during its large moments in the Paganini.
The notes adequately discuss the composers and give you a brief essay by the soloist but say nothing otherwise about the performers. Later details show the recording was made in Stockholm in 2005-06. Finally, to end a long list of complaints, DG puts the movement timings on neither the back cover nor inside front cover, making it difficult to view them when listening in the car. They give you several nice photos of Hilary instead.
I feel generous giving this review three stars since the Paganini is so inadequate. It's not one of my favorite scores but every recording I've ever heard is better than this one. The last one I owned -- with Vengerov playing and Mehta conducting (a recording no critic thought too great) -- seems like an unqualified masterpiece next to this one. Compared to Hahn's listless traversal, Vengerov is felicitous. Compared to Oue's loud, mechanical, percussive support, Mehta is the archbishop of subtle persuasion.
The best recording I've ever heard of the Paganini is by Alfredo Campoli supported by Pierino Gamba and the London Symphony. Recorded in the 1960s, Campoli performed the Kreisler revision of the score which essentially puts the whole thing into a single movement.
That recording last appeared on a discount London Treasury Series LP that Decca/London never reincarnated on CD. I bought the record in college and paid a guy in Nebraska to burn me a high quality CD a few years back. The LP was mated to an outstanding reading of the St. Saens Violin Concerto No. 3. Decca would do us all a favor by releasing it on CD.
As other reviewers here will tell you, this recording is for fans of the violinist. Her trademark warmth and romance are on display in a good recording. Yet she so underplays the drama, virtuosity, intensity and sheer good spirits of the Paganini that her rendering cannot be considered more than average. She is better in the Spohr but that concerto in largely forgettable. Unless you're a Hahn supporter, I'd say pass on this one."
Hahn = Opera Singer?
J. M. Thomas | New Haven, CT USA | 10/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been a fan of Hilary Hahn's for some time now, and each new release is a true pleasure. Her playing certainly is music at its greatest - the technical mastery, the musicality, the way she lets the music be its own entity. Indeed, one gets the impression even from this recording of one of the showiest violin pieces ever written that it's not about her at all. Hahn offers her motivation for pairing these concertos in her program notes, aptly titled "The Violin as Voice." The Paganini and Spohr concerti both possess dramatic vocal qualities, and Hahn demonstrates this to perfection in a masterful recording that cannot be ignored.
Vocal qualities aside, the Paganini and Spohr are spectacular, each in its own way. The Paganini does not fail in being a thrilling showpiece - indeed, the orchestra and soloist become a breathtaking sort of circus act, with the violinist as the featured performer. Never have I heard a more exhilarating display. The Spohr, a lesser known work, was written in the style of an opera scene and possesses a darker demeanor. Hahn champions the work quite nicely, and ably demonstrates why it deserves to be placed beside the Paganini.
The recording is stunningly beautiful, and all the more stunning because Hahn's technique is so sure that one forgets about it and can focus on the music itself. One complaint - the recording technology is not quite capable of capturing Hahn's sound in all its glory. After hearing her live, it's hard to go back to the recordings! There's nothing like it."
Paganini and Spohr would smile and shake hands
HDunik | CA | 11/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very substantial album. Hilary Hahn, like always, never stops to amaze. The Paganini concerto is perfectly played, her intentions fulfilled. Her approach and performance for this piece are definitely different than any other violinists'. The technical highlights are skillfully controlled, the operatic qualities successfully emphasized. The Spohr concerto is just as beautiful as it can get. It stands out as solidly as any other well-known concertos. Hahn made an extremely smart decision to pair the two concertos in the album. The histories of the pieces and composers are very well studied and considered.
Hilary Hahn's technique shines very pleasantly. Every note is clear and equally considered. The orchestra and conductor did quite a good job. The tempi are very nice.
This, I would say, is one of the best classical CDs in 2006. Another Grammy for Hilary Hahn is very possible."
Fiddler's fluff, but very elegantly done
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/02/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hilary Hahn has quickly joined Joshua Bell as a beloved young American violinist. He has two top 20 Cds on amazon's current classical list, and she comes in at #21. This is all the more remrkable because Hahn has risen through nothing but serious music while Bell relies on pop crossover. I know that her fans aren't buying this new CD to hear Paganini, much less Spohr (I own 3,000 Cds, and none are by Spohr). they want Hahn, and they won't be disappointed. Her ability to play Pagnini's fiendish roulades, double stops, and finger-breaking leaps without losing absolute purity of tone is amazing. In musical terms the Paganini Concerto #1 is negligible at best, but as the Amazon reviewer says, fiddlers and audiences love it. My one reservation is that Hahn could give us more panache and dare-deviltry. There's a whiff of politness here that takes Pagnini's fireworks display too seriously. Otherwise, this CD is a delightful reminder of a cherishable artist."