Prom 14: Hahn/Jarvi/Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Royal Albert Hall

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The Independent Culture

The American violinist Hilary Hahn, now 31, seems to be one of those rare and fortunate musicians who have made the transition from child prodigy to adult virtuoso without trauma, and with scarcely an alteration in pace.

Admitted to the Curtis Institute at ten, she made her orchestral debut at 12, and her first Cd – of Bach pieces she had played since she was eight – at 17. Disagreeing with the way her first record company, Sony, wanted to market her, she ditched them for Deutsche Grammophon. Notably articulate, she writes her own liner notes, and addresses her fans via her website like a protective big sister telling her siblings about the ways of the world.

A veteran performer of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, she spent her initial period of silence under Paavo Jarvi’s baton looking as if she wanted to conduct this work as well as play; she kept a watchful eye on each section of the orchestra in turn, before making her maiden flight into the musical stratosphere. Her sound was small and chaste, but so focused that it easily reached all corners of the hall. Her embroidery of the development had exquisite delicacy, with a mere hint of vibrato; she seemed to surround herself with a rapt stillness. But if this was the quietest account of this movement I’ve ever heard, it was also one of the most commanding, and during her caressing cadenza you could sense the packed auditorium holding its breath. Her performance acquired deeper inwardness in the slow movement, and in the finale – which many violinists take as a licence to barnstorm - she still maintained a flawless decorum.

Boring? Thanks to the nobility of her conception, no, absolutely magical. And then came her encore: a Bach Gigue played with such verve and gutsiness that, if one had been listening blind, one might have said it was by a different violinist.

This reinstituted ‘Beethoven night’ had begun with a strikingly Haydnesque performance of the First Symphony, and it closed with an extraordinarily fleet and fanciful account of the Fifth. By finely calibrating his pianissimi, Jarvi found textures in this work which gave it an entirely new character. Catch this marvellous concert again at 2.00pm on Friday[30july].

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