Violinist Hilary Hahn’s classy artistry a balm for new music

By Truman C. Wang


Unquestionably, Robert Levin is an estimable pianist in his own right.  But too bad for him tonight.  People who turned out in droves were predominantly Hilary supporters, so to speak, just as they had come for Joshua Bell last week and left before the Dudamel-only second half of the concert. 

I can name many virtues in Mr. Levin’s pianism – wonderful lucidity and fluidity, historically-informed articulation and phrasing (in the Mozart) and even a touch of poetry here and there.  He got nice solo opportunities in the Bach Sonata No. 6 in G Major (BWV.1019) and in Hans Peter Turk’s “Träume”.  But as a partner and collaborator, he often seemed to upstage his more famous colleague Hilary Hahn.  The uncommonly fast tempi chosen for the Bach and Mozart sonatas, for instance, at times felt like a showpiece for the piano and made the violin sound breathless.  It’s a testament to Hilary Hahn’s artistry to thrive under such circumstances and still made the violin sound coherent and beautiful, never losing that loveliness of tone under pressure.  Her Bach was pristine and classy, reminiscent of her incandescent Partita No. 2 “Chaconne” in the same hall a few years ago.   Her Mozart here was intensely lyrical, rather than serenely lyrical as was with her pianist Natalie Zhu last time.  Both Levin and Hahn came head-to-head in the Schubert Rondo in B minor D. 895, showing off their virtuoso skills to brilliant effects.    

A champion of new music, Hilary Hahn scored a hit with Spanish composer Antón Garcia Abril’s Partita No. 4 “Art” – giving its world premiere tonight in Los Angeles.  It’s a new commissioned work for Ms. Hahn and featured all the attributes of its dedicatee – elegance, serenity and artistry – a gentle, delectable musical morsel in a program dominated by fast and furious pieces. 

Two encores  (Richter: Mercy and Boulanger: Cortège) again featured contemporary composers in easily digestible bite-size pieces.  That’s a brilliant way to introduce skeptics to new Classical music.  In fact, Hilary Hahn has recorded an entire CD of such newly-composed short works entitled “The Encores”.   

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.