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Paris, Hilary Hahn

07-06-2021 | By Stephen Francis Vasta | Issue 116

Paris, Hilary Hahn (violin); Radio France Philharmonic/Mikko Franck. DG 00289 483 9847 (CD).  TT: 52.51. CHAUSSON: Poème. PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D. RAUTAVAARA: Deux sérénades.

The chief interest here lies in Einojuhari Rautavaara's Deux sérénades, adapted for Hilary Hahn from his opera The House of the Sun; when the composer died in mid-project, his onetime student Kalevi Aho completed them. The two movements are remarkably similar in spirit—recalling the sustained, stoic fervor of Sibelius's string writing—until the second serenade, which adds paired winds to the strings of the first, concludes abruptly in an incongruous rhumba episode! Hahn's violin is mostly assigned long, introspective lines, with occasional lyrical flights of fancy like those of Barber's concerto, and enlivens all of it with firm-bowed commitment and expressive engagement. Mikko Franck seconds her with a steady intensity, allowing the added winds to lighten the mood in the second serenade.

The other works, in the standard rep—stretching it to include the Chausson—share Rautavaara's exploratory aesthetic as well as a tenuous Parisian connection. Chausson's Poème is more substantial than the title might suggest, briefly gesturing towards a brooding Expressionism before settling into a surging Debussyan palette, bolstered by a strong rhythmic profile. Hahn intones her first, unaccompanied phrases to suggest isolation; Franck supports her gently, with delicate reed detail, cushiony accents, and a steady musical pulse.

Prokofiev's First Concerto is an established classic, but this rendition falls short. (Full disclosure: Mine is a minority view.) Hahn, to be sure, has flashes of insight—the opening solo's wistful, "rocking" pulse; the expressive shaping of the finale's curving, dissonant lines—and places her final high notes with pinpoint accuracy. But too much of the rest, while always musical, is rarely distinctive. Franck's solidly grounded backing doesn't particularly highlight instrumental detail.

The Rautavaara, recorded in concert, is vivid; the venue's ambience slightly recesses the second serenade's woodwinds, but they're still there. In the other works, recorded by a different engineer, the sound is pleasing but oddly restrained. Everything important is audible, but turning up the gain doesn't add to the immediacy.