Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A violin rock star dazzles at Lanaudiere

Alan Conter
The Globe and Mail
August 1, 2010

This year, the month-long Lanaudière Festival is celebrating romanticism in a big way by making the bicentenaries of the births of Chopin and Schumann. A good chunk of the Schumann is being served up by the return visit of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, performing all four of his symphonies. If you don’t know this tight German ensemble, they’re well worth a listen.

Paavo Järvi, the Estonian-born American conductor who also heads the Cincinnati Symphony, has put the DKB on the map since taking on their artistic direction in 2004. They played Lanaudiêre to enthusiastic crowds in 2005 and 2007 and this year’s Schumann symphonic cycle was one of the hot tickets. Of course the fact that they are touring with pianist Piotr Anderszewski and violinist Hilary Hahn adds to the draw.

While the spotlight may be on Robert Schumann, clearly Saturday night’s stellar moment was Hilary Hahn’s brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 61. The 31-year-old violinist, who already has two Grammys under her belt, delivered a beautifully textured reading of the intricate work. Yet her technical prowess is tempered by a stage presence that mixes warmth and bravura – she’s kind of like a violin rock star.

During the moments when she’s not playing, she pays close and appreciative attention to her fellow band members and you can see her getting into their groove. From time to time she’ll finger the orchestral violin passages, preparing for her solo entries. She’s clearly enjoying this European and North American tour with them.

Since this is Beethoven’s only complete violin concerto it does get played often and almost everyone who’s a classical violin fan has heard it dozens of times. It’s a challenge to make if fresh. Hahn, Järvi and the orchestra pulled it off very successfully.

This isn’t grandiose Beethoven – or even mega-romantic Beethoven – it’s lyrical and reflective. It harks back to the classical roots of the violin concerto form that Beethoven admired so much of the late Italian baroque and the French. The strings of the DKB were in very fine form and so thrilled the audience that Hahn graciously tagged on a solo bit of Bach as an encore.

The concert began with Schumann’s Genoveva Overture, op. 81. While the opera has sunk into obscurity, musicians like the overture because of its elaborate formal elements and stunning orchestration. Järvi’s reading was nicely balanced, a relaxed opening building in intensity.

To round the evening off and, really, the raison d’être of the DKB’s presence, was the performance of the Schumann symphony. The Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, op. 38, dubbed “Spring,” is a lush, full-on romantic piece.

All four movements are redolent with the sentiment of a newly married and briefly ecstatic Schumann. The larghetto is richly coloured, with some lovely intermingling of winds and horns with the darker strings. It was finely played in the open air of Lanaudière.

The festival continues till Aug. 8, with Valentina Lisitsa playing an all-Chopin recital at the Eglise de l’Assomption in Joliette on Aug. 5. The OSM under Kent Nagano are at the Amphitheatre Aug. 6-7: Shostakovitch and Brahms with violinist Isabelle Faust on Aug. 6, followed by Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation.”


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