Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hahn wows CSO audience with violin skill

by Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Enquirer
December 17, 2010

Hilary Hahn is, quite simply, one of America’s brightest stars.

On Friday, the violinist performed Mozart with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and you couldn’t help but smile through her performance. It was not because of her effortless technique or the gorgeous tone she projected from her violin. There was a genuine, unaffected quality about her music making that made her performance of Mozart’s “Turkish” Concerto one of sheer joy.

Paavo Järvi was back in town for an inventive program designed for small orchestra. (The other half is playing Cincinnati Ballet’s “Nutcracker” this weekend.) Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, Britten’s Simple Symphony, Op. 4, and Stravinsky’s Suite from the ballet “Pulcinella” allowed the strings and orchestral soloists to shine.

But it was also interesting to hear this performance in a new configuration being used, which places the orchestra closer to the audience. The presence of sound was remarkable.

Hahn, 31, a native of Lexington, Va., first picked up a violin at age 3. She has been touring for half of her life, released a dozen recordings, won fistfuls of awards, including two Grammy Awards, two composers have written concertos for her and she has even appeared on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”

That’s impressive enough. But then she picks up her violin, and projects the big, effortless, golden sound that is uniquely hers. Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 in A Major, nicknamed “Turkish” for its finale, was an ideal vehicle for her artistry.

She was animated in her performing, stepping into her phrases as she played, and communicating easily with Järvi and the orchestra, as well as with her listeners. The first movement was ebullient, and she found character in every phrase.

The violinist’s cadenzas, one in each movement, were searching and full of imagination, several times reaching into the stratosphere with pristine intonation. Hahn approached the slow movement, one of Mozart’s most beautiful, with purity of tone and occasionally, a glimpse of old-world romantic style.

Järvi and the orchestra made excellent partners, echoing the gentle beauty of the slow movement, and providing a sizzling Turkish march in the finale.

The enthusiastic response from the Music Hall audience resulted in encore: J.S. Bach’s Sarabande from the Suite in B Minor, a profound performance played with mesmerizing beauty.

For the orchestra, Stravinsky’s neoclassical Suite from “Pulcinella,” which concluded, was a tour de force. The work, in nine movements, was bursting with inventiveness – a mark of Järvi’s tenure here for nearly a decade.

The orchestra performed superbly and soloists made fine contributions, including oboist Dwight Parry’s nuanced phrasing in the gentle “Serenata,” the heroic efforts of bassoonist William Winstead, and the showmanship of principal bass Owen Lee.

Järvi led it all with wit, bringing out unexpected details and keeping the music buoyant. His feeling for color and atmosphere made it a magical performance.

He opened with Bartok’s Divertimento, not performed by the CSO since 1970. The work for strings uses a group of orchestral soloists in concerto grosso style. Rich in folk tunes and rhythms, it was written on the eve of World War II, and includes a mournful Adagio.

After some initial unevenness, the orchestra responded with vivid playing. The conductor went for an earthy quality in the rhythmic finale, which included slapping strings and a rhapsodic cadenza for concertmaster Timothy Lees.

The second half included the subscription premiere of Britten’s cheerful Simple Symphony, evoking childhood tunes. I’ve never heard so much dynamic contrast in an all-pizzicato movement, as in the piece’s “Playful Pizzicato.”

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