LABELS: SO?Eiji Oue
ALBUM TITLE: Paganini
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Hilary Hahn (violin); Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eiji Oue
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 6232
There have been a number of fine accounts of Paganini’s First Concerto down the years – Francescatti, Rabin, Belkin, Accardo, Szeryng, Shaham and Gringolts all spring to mind. But for a combination of swaggering charm, technical wizardry and beguiling tone, Itzhak Perlman’s debut concerto disc for EMI still holds sway – assuming you don’t object to the handful of traditional cuts in the orchestral tuttis and the finale’s (short) cantabile episode.
Hilary Hahn plays the score complete and with such effortless command that the listener might be fooled into thinking that it really isn’t all that difficult – believe me, it is! Her legato is seamless, her intonation impossibly true under even the most fiendish pressure, her tone blemishless.
Flying spiccato, forced harmonics, multiple stopping, sleight-of-hand arpeggios, rapid string-crossing – all are seemingly child’s play to this remarkable young player. Not only that, but Hahn goes beyond mere pyrotechnics, continually phrasing with the kind of sensitivity normally accorded bona fide masterpieces. All that’s missing is the devil-may care adrenalin rush essential to make this Rossinian extravaganza really spring to life.
Hahn’s caring approach to the virtuoso repertoire works wonders, however, in Spohr’s A minor Concerto, which exchanges Paganini’s Italianate sparkle for furrowed-brow, Germanic rhetoric. Here her exquisite shaping of Spohr’s melodies and technical nonchalance pay special dividends.
Indeed, this is easily the finest version of this once-popular work to have emerged since Zukerman’s long-deleted account of the early 1970s for CBS. Lively and attentive accompaniments from Oue, although the otherwise fine recording lacks Deutsche Grammophon’s trademark translucence. Julian Haylock