Hilary Hahn plays Bach
JS Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Solo Violin Partita No. 1
Hilary Hahn (violin)
Decca 483 3954 75:28 mins
In 1903 Joseph Joachim made one of the earliest recordings of Bach’s solo violin music, some 115 years before Hilary Hahn’s presented here. Unsurprisingly, there is quite an interpretative gulf between them – Joachim is far from being self-indulgent; the vibrato is modest. By comparison, Hahn takes a more spacious approach, energised by a pronounced and full-throated vibrato although at no stage does it compromise the intonation, which is rock solid throughout.
Hahn is most arresting at the start of the two sonatas. The First Sonata’s opening Adagio has a persuasively strong sense of structure which is sustained into the succeeding fugue where the rhetorical engagement and poise, particularly in its cadenza-like conclusion, is deeply satisfying. Similarly, the Second Sonata’s Grave opening has both grandeur and a superb sense of pace. Where Hahn’s approach seems to work less well is in some of the dances. No one, of course, expected people to take to the floor during these movements, but a clearer recognition of their dance origins might have provided a welcome lightness. For example, the Allemande of the First Partita is rather ponderous and its Corrente strangely under-characterised. These full-blooded performances will appeal to those looking for something beyond an authentic approach, but amid all the grandeur, perhaps some of Joachim’s modesty would not have gone amiss.