Hilary Hahn at the Wigmore Hall

June 2, 2019, 3:36 AM · I had the privilege to see Hilary Hahn perform at the Wigmore Hall in London last Thursday. She is currently touring to promote her album of solo Bach and so the programme was the A minor sonata, the E major partita and the C major sonata.

I have never experienced such outstanding performance. Her tone was so beautiful, her musicality so outstanding and her technique so flawless she received a rapturous standing ovation and she had to perform two encores (the sarabande and gigue from the D minor partita).

I have heard her recordings of these pieces many times - but nothing prepared me for the experience of hearing them live. If there is any way you can get to hear her play in person, then do so - you won't regret it.

Replies (9)

June 3, 2019, 10:29 AM · That's a lot of Bach, it must be hard to reset for each concert or sonata and capture the right feeling
Edited: June 3, 2019, 2:05 PM · I am itching to see her play this program in Massachusetts over the summer, if I can pull together the money. It's interesting that you say she played the E major partita and the C major sonata since those were on her first Bach album. The one she just released has Sonata 1, 2, and the Partita with all the doubles.

She played the Gigue as an encore when I saw her play Sibelius. Say what you will about "historically uninformed performances" and "lack of undertensioned gut strings", but her tone control in solo Bach is so unreal. Like, the Gigue is probably the among the easiest movements of the bunch, but...when I play it, it doesn't sound like that.

June 5, 2019, 10:58 AM · I am not impressed with her cd. After exposure to historically informed performance I do not listen Bach with same ears anymore. Yes, it is a matter of taste, but I am saddened that so much of her talent and high quality playing is missdirected.
June 5, 2019, 1:49 PM · Don't know if I agree that the lack of historical accuracy is an obstacle.

For starters, there is very little record of solo Bach being a regular part of repertoire during Bach's lifetime, and the "oral/aural tradition" goes that it wasn't until the later 19th century that it began to be considered a serious part of the violin repertoire.

You could even argue that Bach's music as a whole had faded from the public view until the revival of his music by Mendelssohn almost 100 years after his death.

June 5, 2019, 2:18 PM · Bach had indeed faded from "the public view", but his solo works were played by performers - composers. Chopin famously used to play some pieces of the WTClavier as a warmup. Violinists kept playing Bach privately as a way to keep their technique clean.
Edited: June 5, 2019, 6:38 PM · The main objection is in sustained double stops and chords, sometimes almost like a church organ. Equalized bow makes it less connected with breath and dancing. Do not take me wrong: she is one of the finest violinists, but I am not a fan of Bach on a modern fiddle. There is a tendency toward sound on steroids: powerful and grandiose. Listen to Bach cantatas, preferably by Gardiner, English baroque soloists and the Monteverdi choir. There are many more nuances, much more breath and myriads of emotions, from utter saddnes to sheer happiness.
Edited: June 5, 2019, 3:56 PM · Rocky, you are entitled to your opinion that her playing is misdirected.

I don't share it. I was there in that room, and myself and 500 or so other people, many of whom would have been very serious music scholars, reacted to her playing in a very direct and emotional way - by getting on their feet and cheering.

If you think that your view of "historically informed" is more accurate than hers, then I applaud your self-confidence. She seems to have made a pretty decent success of her, from your perspective, uninformed performances. And the audience's reaction suggests that the visceral connection she forged between herself and us made notions of historical accuracy irrelevant.

And here's a thought to end with. The performance was not marketed as one for historical scholars. She's a modern violinist playing with a modern bow, performing music written in 1720. Is historical accuracy all that she should strive for? Or should she, or any player including you and I, be able to reinterpret Bach's music as we see fit or as emotion and mood takes us in our modern context?

I believe you can approach Bach's music, or any piece of music, in either way. And one is not better than the other. And so I don't really hold with people who dismiss a dazzling performance on the basis that it doesn't quite fit some assumed notion of what is historically accurate.

June 5, 2019, 6:19 PM · I feel we're blessed by having great performers who play it differently. HIP performers for some and non-HIP for others. I listen to both but if I had only one set of the Bach it would not be one of the HIP violinists' recordings.
June 5, 2019, 6:37 PM · I hear you Tony and respect your opinion.


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