Sunday, February 25, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

In Hilary Hahn's hands, violin soars

TAMPA — Hilary Hahn does things her way. The conventional recital that begins with, say, a familiar, cherished work like one of the Beethoven sonatas is not for this violin virtuoso.

Instead, Hahn opened her program Wednesday night with a pair of unknown short and decidedly modern pieces, one by a Hollywood composer, James Newton Howard (responsible for the scores of The Hunger Games, Michael Clayton and many more movies), the other by British composer Richard Barrett.

Only after Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe played these did they get down to some standard repertoire, Faure's melancholy Sonata in A, for the small crowd in Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

Hahn's eccentric programming is part of her ambitious project called "In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores," in which she commissioned 27 short works for violin and piano to, as she has said, "redefine" the term "encore" away from its traditional meaning of light, effervescent bonbons by the likes of Fritz Kreisler. She and Smythe played eight of the encores, and juxtaposing them with the Faure sonata and other popular works was an effective way to get some new music across in a pretty accessible way.

Howard's 133 … At Least had plenty of flashy fiddling, and Barrett's Shade was full of keening passages in the upper register. Of the encores, I most liked David Del Tredici's aptly nostalgic Memories, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh's spectacularly avant-garde Impulse (a very long way from Kreisler) and Valentin Silvestrov's wispy little melodies, Waltz and Christmas Serenade.

Of course, it helps immeasurably to have an artist like Hahn as an advocate for contemporary music. For all the novelty of Wednesday's programming, the highlight was her memorable, mesmerizing performance of the famous Chaconne from Bach's Second Partita. Because she is not a showy violinist — eyes downcast most of the time, her willowy frame sways quite a lot, but the main effect is of composed concentration — it was useful to close my eyes while listening to her play. Then the ferocity and intensity of the lush sound she drew from her instrument became striking, as well as how remarkable she (and Bach) was in creating multiple, contrapuntal voices in the solo work.

Hahn and Smythe wound up the evening with the lyrical sweetness of Corelli's Op. 5 Sonata in F.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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