Hahn's love of Bach evident in concert in Annapolis

Violinist exhibits energy, balance in performance


August 29, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bach is, for me, the touchstone that keeps my playing honest," wrote Hilary Hahn in liner notes to the extraordinary program of Bach unaccompanied works for the violin she recorded as a 16-year-old back in the mid-'90s.

Now an international superstar at age 22, Hahn, who spent her formative years in Baltimore before moving on to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute, visited the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis Tuesday night for a concert with conductor Leslie B. Dunner and a scaled-down, chamber-sized Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

On the bill were two of Johann Sebastian's concertos for the fiddle: the E major and the D minor Double Concerto that Hahn played in tandem with Margaret Batjer, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Suffice it to say that the same love and ardor that were so evident in the young violinist's playing of the unaccompanied works were infused into these miraculous concertos.

Hahn gave us youthful, energetic, sparkling Bach filled to the brim with sheer visceral excitement. Yet not for a moment did the pedal seem mashed to the floor because her tone sang with an aristocratic elegance that kept the solo lines in exquisite balance with the other elements of the work. Felicitous effects abounded in both pieces.

In Movement I of the E major, Hahn's general no-nonsense approach made her rhetorical flourish just before the recapitulation seem all the more profound. And what a joy to hear her tone give such lift to the ASO strings in the tutti passages she entered into with such abandon.

Batjer, no slouch herself in matters of tone production and phrasing, produced a dusky, viola-like sound that made Bach's Double sound like a proud grandfather of Mozart's celestial Concertante for Violin and Viola.

The gorgeous duet in the slow movement married linear purity with voluptuous tone, and neither soloist shied away from the stormy emotions so apparent in the final movement.

What a welcome change this was from the astringent tone and desiccated phrasing that fuel the anti-romantic excesses of the gut-string antique-meisters of the period performance school.

Dunner and his troops proved exemplary hosts, accompanying their guests with graceful flair, especially in the continuo lines of principal cellist Fiona Thompson and visiting harpsichordist Adam Pearl.

If there was a problem with the rest of Tuesday's program it was that the slower portions of Edvard Grieg's neo-baroque Holberg Suite and the lyrical elements of Sir Edward Elgar's E minor Serenade yielded a glut of lyrical string music that became repetitious. A work exploiting the resources of Pearl's harpsichord might have provided more variety.

Still, the rambunctiousness of Grieg's Praeluduim and the pastoral charm of Sir Edward's writing emerged in admirable testimony to the work Dunner has been doing to raise the artistic fortunes of the orchestra to our south.

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