Age proves no barrier

Review: Despite her youth -- she's only 20 -- Hilary Hahn brings a seasoned sound to her playing with the Baltimore Symphony.

May 29, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

According to the rules, young musicians aren't supposed to have artistic wisdom.

For example, pre-teens presumably can't relate to musical romanticism since, unless very poorly supervised, they have no romantic experiences to draw upon. The same theory holds that a teen-ager, however advanced, can't plumb the profound depths of, say, the late Beethoven compositions.

As for someone who's only 20, the expressive heat of a piece like the D major Violin Concerto by Brahms is simply beyond reach. It's too poetic, personal, mature.

Yeah, well. So much for rules.

Twenty-year-old Hilary Hahn defied such silly notions in an incandescent account of the Brahms concerto with the Baltimore Sym- phony Orchestra Friday evening at Meyerhoff Hall. On technical grounds alone, it was a class act, with dead-on pitch, luscious tone, exceptionally precise articulation. But what really caught the ear was the phrasing.

The violinist made clear how carefully she had considered the notes and their implications. In the first movement, Hahn intensified the emotional distance between dramatic, aggressive passages and those of yearning. When, after the compelling cadenza, she floated pensive afterthoughts against a gentle orchestral backdrop, the effect could not have been more poignant.

Throughout the concert, Hahn's command of the instrument and the score yielded consistently telling results. If the gypsy-flavored finale could have used a little more punch, the music's spirit certainly came through abundantly. And there were no reservations to be had about the exquisitely molded, unaccompanied Bach that this Baltimore favorite offered as an encore for the vociferously enthusiastic house.

The violinist was partnered in the concerto by another young musician possessing skills and incisiveness beyond his years. At 24, British conductor Daniel Harding has already appeared with some of the world's most prestigious orchestras. In his BSO debut, he demonstrated why.

To be sure, Harding goes in for more choreography than necessary, his long arms broadly outlining every phrase as if he were signing them for the hearing-impaired. But he clearly knows what he wants and, for Brahms, he wanted orchestral efforts that were as involved, as rhythmically flexible, as subtly nuanced as the soloist's. With one exception, he got it. That exception came at the start of the Adagio, when the winds needed a softer, seamlessly blended tone.

The conductor also led an engaging account of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, with a strong inner pulse unifying the performance, and lots of power behind the outbreaks of lyricism. Harding's concern for dynamic shadings brought out the charms of the inner movements most effectively.

There were especially rich contributions from the trombones and cellos, amid lots of polished, vivid playing by their colleagues.

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