Review: Hilary Hahn Plays Vieuxtemps 4 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

December 14, 2015, 8:48 PM · The 19th-century Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps may have embraced his fourth concerto as his favorite, but lately it has not had too many advocates. Enter Hilary Hahn, who recorded the work earlier this year, and who is performing it all over the world during the 2015-2016 season.

She makes a great case for the infrequently performed concerto, which, she has said, is a piece she learned when she was just 10. "When you're playing it live with orchestra, it's just so vivid," she said.

Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn. Photo by Michael Patrick O'Leary.

But Hahn has the chops to make a great case for all kinds of music that many of us mere mortal violinists would still find rather daunting. Aside from the considerable technical challenges, the concerto has other quirks. For example, the concerto's (extremely) long introduction makes a potentially awkward wait for the soloist. But on Thursday, Hahn made it seem like exactly what she wanted, smiling and nodding approvingly as this long preamble enveloped her in symphonic sound until her moment arrived. The orchestra opened with arresting string sound -- Disney Hall's pin-drop acoustics magnifying the effect. And when Hahn's moment did finally arrive -- her entrance on a very high, soft, acapella note -- she played it with fearless precision. She continued with that kind of steadiness and fine-point intonation throughout, peppered with all kinds of technical displays, like her impeccable octaves. The second-movement "Adagio religioso" had the feeling of a victory march. The highlight came in the third-movement Scherzo -- notes everywhere, great rapport with the orchestra, conductor Mirga Grazinyté-Tyla literally jumping up and down by the end, and Hahn clearly enjoying the thrill ride. The audience applauded wildly (if prematurely). The fourth movement was nostalgic and regal, Hahn's playing powerful and accurate. As a violinist, I found myself awed by the way she could rip off a billion little staccato notes.

For an encore Hahn played the "Louré" from the solo Bach Preludio in E. Her version leaned toward the full and Romantic -- something that might irk period purists but held her audience (myself included) rapt.

The rest of the concert was a treat as well, including the first work on the program, an obscure, eight-movement ballet suite by Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg called the "Golden Key," with a storyline about puppets and animals. This was succinct and well-crafted music that brought to mind the music of Mahler, Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov and more. The short, efficient movements kept every instrument in the somewhat augmented orchestra (trombones, tuba) busy and had names like "Dance of the Cricket."

The second half featured Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony -- an audience favorite; one might even call it an old warhorse. But there is a reason: what a piece! Does any other symphony make a more grand entrance, with that towering brass? And then it goes on to explore so many musical facets. LA Phil oboist Ariana Ghez played a gorgeous second-movement solo. The piece is undoubtedly very familiar to the LA Phil, which played with energy and excitement under Grazinyté-Tyla, whose extreme-fast tempos on Thursday pushed a lot of Tchaikovsky's details in the third and fourth movements into the realm of special effects. Of course, it's exciting to watch the LA Phil musicians -- especially the talented woodwind section, rise to the occasion of playing the nearly physically impossible. Major kudos to clarinetist Burt Hara and flutist Denis Bouriakov, among others. Grazinyté-Tyla's quirky movements seemed to compensate for a lack of detail in her stick technique and made for interesting visuals. She certainly was a hit with the audience.

Laurie Niles, Hilary Hahn
After the concert.

* * *

I wanted to thank everyone who stopped by during this concert series to see me while I was signing books at the LA Phil Bookstore (during the Friday and Saturday concerts.) I was so thrilled to meet some regular readers whom I've never met in person! I also heard some wonderful stories about how Violinist.com had helped people: one talked about being helped with a successful audition, another found his college teacher through reading about that teacher on Violinist.com. That's the kind of thing that makes my day! It would not be possible without the community of people here who ask questions, provide answers, write blogs, support the site with sponsorship and who simply lurk as readers. Thanks to all of you!

Laurie signing

Here I am, signing copies of the book I wrote, Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1, which contains 27 of the best interviews from over the last 12 years, with a foreword by Hilary Hahn.

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Replies

December 15, 2015 at 05:06 AM · We saw Hilary & the LA Phil in OC Sunday. I want to comment on Hilary's great respect for the audience. The venue set aside intermission for Hilary to meet the public and autograph CDs and programs. Disney Hall, in contrast, schedules autographs after the concert. On Sunday, there was not enough time for everyone to meet Hilary before the concert resumed with the Tchaikovsky. And so, Hilary returned to meet concert attendees at the conclusion of the concert. She did not have to do this. I'm sure she was tired. What a great person.

Regarding Hilary's performance - awesome. We also were introduced to Mirga Grazinyté-Tyla. OMG! All the hype is true!

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