Review: A high-wattage evening: violinist Hilary Hahn with Seattle Symphony
10th February, 2017
She was one of the violin world’s most astonishing prodigies — and two decades after her rise to teenage stardom, Hilary Hahn at 37 continues to grow as a star soloist. This season, Hahn is a “featured artist” with the Seattle Symphony, where she returned Thursday night for the first of three performances of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 under the direction of Ludovic Morlot.
Hahn’s Bruch, compelling and clean except for a couple of tiny misjudgments, is not as schmaltzy as we often hear it, played by violinists who want to wring every melody for maximum heart-tugging impact. Hahn let the music sing, shaping the lines with power and passion, but never overdoing the vibrato or introducing any interpretive distortions. It was a masterly performance of this often-played concerto, direct and unfussy and expert.
The audience responded with an extended ovation warm enough to bring an encore: the Gigue from Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major. It was this work (along with Bach’s other Partitas) that launched a teenage Hahn to stardom 20 years ago, with her first album, “Hilary Hahn Plays Bach.”
The program played to the strengths of music director Ludovic Morlot, who provided attentive and supportive partnership in the concerto. Not surprisingly, the French-born maestro was also closely attuned to the nuances of Debussy’s “Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”); he made a great case as well for the final work on the program, Prokofiev’s exuberant Symphony No. 5.
Sensuous and shimmering, the Debussy soared past a few uneven entrances in the opening, on to a convincing performance with beautiful wind solos and lots of subtle contrasts. Morlot and the orchestra, with guest principal flutist Ebonee Thomas, created an atmosphere of dreamy intimacy that made this popular piece sound almost like chamber music.”
At the other end of the scale, the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 — composed in 1944, during World War II — uses the mighty power of the full orchestra to re-create the propulsive energy of its milieu. One of Prokofiev’s most successful major works, the Fifth recalls some of his famous ballet scores, with lots of verve and character and wit (and some tragic, yearning twists as well). This feisty music with its puckish energy and vivid orchestration has its share of anguish, in angular melodies that reach and fall again and again. Morlot and the orchestra underlined both the tragic and the triumphant elements with vivid performances from all the sections (notably the clarinets).
This is a program to make music lovers glad for the two repeat opportunities to hear Hilary Hahn — and an orchestra worthy of her.
10 February 2017
Melinda Bargreen / The Seattle Times