Hilary Hahn CD review

Higdon and Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos
Hilary Hahn; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra;Vasily Petrenko
Deutsche Gramophon

It’s pleasing to see mainstream media picking up the story of Hilary Hahn’s recent recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto. Like her previous pairing of Schoenberg with Sibelius,  Hahn presents something new to most classical audiences alongside a “warhorse,” the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. She plays both superlatively; I wouldn’t want to have to choose which performance to prefer.

Far from seeming like an odd pairing, the two concertos complement each other wonderfully. Higdon has a compositional voice that doesn’t eschew contemporary orchestration – witness the brash percussion in the Violin Concerto’s first movement. But at the same time she makes numerous connections to the Romantic concerto tradition in her sense of phrasing and the unabashed lyricism of much of the work. But this is no mere “Neoromanticism:” Higdon gives us the real thing, with guts and, often, gravitas. Thus, it’s an excellent choice to pair with Tchaikovsky.

I’m particularly fond of the Higdon concerto’s pastoral, poignant second movement, which not only evinces a supple contemporary Romanticism, but also reminds me in places of a Twentieth Century American composer: Aaron Copland. Also, its passages for the woodwinds are just spectacular. And the final movement is a winning showcase for both the orchestra and its soloist: it fits Hahn perfectly.

One hopes that, someday, we’ll be seeing future recordings where the Higdon concerto is the repertoire work paired with a piece of “new music:” it’s not hard to imagine!

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