Brave Soul

Hilary Hahn, presented by CAMA. At the Arlington Theatre, Wednesday, January 17.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Hilary-Hahn.jpgThe fact that large-venue, solo violin recitals still exist is a testament to the nearly unbelievable courage of performers like Hilary Hahn. Imagine: virtually every night she enters a concert hall carrying nothing but a violin and bow. In front of her are several thousand people, usually separated from her by indifferent acoustics but united by their high expectations for her performance. Next to her is a piano and an accompanist — no amplification, no orchestra, and most importantly, no score. Armed with a small wooden instrument built more than 100 years ago, she must remember more than an hour’s worth of the world’s most difficult instrumental music, and somehow project it to the rear of the balcony, without losing the nuance and color that made her eligible for this opportunity in the first place.

On Wednesday night, Hahn not only met the high expectations of the packed Arlington, she exceeded them at several turns and did so most decisively in the pieces that required her to mimic the qualities of a human voice. The opening number was a sonata by Leoš Janáček, a composer known for his idiosyncratic phrasing and reliance on the cadences of his native language, Czech. Hahn made the music sing, and the tone of her playing left an indelible impression. The other highlight of the program was her opener after the interval, a sonata by Eugene Ysaÿe, No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 27, with the rather intimidating nickname “Obsession.” Hahn played this immensely difficult work with great precision and charm, bringing out the multiplicity of emotions suggested by the score, which ends with an allegro furioso.

Valentina Lisitsa is a wonderful accompanist, and she was particularly strong in the opening section of the Beethoven Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 in A Major, known as the “Kreutzer.” This supreme challenge for the violinist was met handily by Hahn, even if there were moments when it seemed as though she lacked the fire from heaven one ordinarily associates with Beethoven’s greatest writing. Overall, the concert was something to be savored — a relic of eras long past that still retains the power to fascinate and move.

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