Hahn is impressive at Zion Church benefit

Violinist shines with Bach's `Chaconne'

Music Review


When Zion Church was founded in downtown Baltimore, the music of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Corelli would have been considered hot new stuff.

It still sounded remarkably fresh Thursday night when played by acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn and some of the city's finest musicians in a benefit concert at the church, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary.

The beneficiary of the event (the musicians donated their services) was the organ restoration fund, which earned $30,000 from ticket sales and another $5,000 from Hahn, who also helped generate a few thousand dollars more from concertgoers during intermission.

The 26-year-old violinist has a soft spot for the place. At age 6, she gave one of her earliest public performances at Zion Church, where Lutheran services in German have been held since 1755, and she was a member of the congregation while growing up here.

With soft lighting, Christmas decorations and warm acoustics, the church provided a welcoming environment for the benefit.

The evening would have been worthwhile if it had contained nothing more than Hahn playing the 15 minutes or so of Bach's profound Chaconne for unaccompanied violin.

On purely technical grounds, her account of the piece proved remarkable for spot-on intonation, clarity of articulation and superbly judged dynamics. But there was much more to it.

Favoring tempos that neither dawdled nor rushed, she illuminated the almost spiritual beauty in the ingeniously constructed music. It was the kind of playing that easily explains why Hahn enjoys front-rank status internationally among today's violinists.

Hahn was no less impressive limning the eloquent melodic paths in Bach's D minor Concerto for Two Violins, partnered by Qing Li, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's principal second violinist. The soloists passed the poetic strains of the slow movement back and forth with a particularly affecting lyricism.

Throughout the concerto, the two women enjoyed supple support from an ensemble of BSO players, who didn't really need a conductor (and didn't pay much attention to the one they had, Paul Mori, who ran a chamber group here in the 1990s).

Hahn stayed out of the spotlight in the rest of the program, even taking a second violin part in the colorful, concert-opening performance of Corelli's so-called Christmas Concerto, which featured violinists Igor Yuzefovich and Mateusz Wolski and cellist Seth Low.

Joined by Low and harpsichordist Eric Conway, Hahn also had a supporting role in a selection of arias by Bach and Handel. These were sung with tonal richness and eloquent phrasing by soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, who negotiated the wiggly lines of Handel's Flammende Rose as effectively as she caressed the stately melody of Bach's Bist du bei mir. We don't get to hear this classy singer often enough around here.

The generous program included yet another baroque gift, a bassoon concerto by Vivaldi, which showcased the smooth technique and beautifully shaded phrasing of BSO principal bassoonist Phillip Kolker.


CD signing -- Hilary Hahn will answer questions and sign her new CD from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles St. 410-385-2638.

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