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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