Schoenberg; Sibelius

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg; Sibelius
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg; Sibelius
WORKS: Schoenberg: Violin Concerto; Sibelius: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Hilary Hahn (violin) Swedish radio SO/Esa-Pekka Salonen
CATALOGUE NO: 477 7346

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The Schoenberg is simply astonishing. From one read-through with the score I get the impression that every single note of the solo part is firmly in place – and we’re talking about one of the most phenomenally challenging pieces of violin writing that ever got a toe-hold on the repertoire. But it’s not just Hilary Hahn’s accuracy and stamina that make you feel like leaping out of your seat at the end. Hahn and Esa-Pekka Salonen also show how much beauty and brilliance there is in this work. The orchestration can be fiercely dazzling one minute, exquisite the next. And if ‘beautiful atonal lyricism’ reads like a multiple contradiction in terms, try Hahn in the first couple of minutes of the slow movement. Ultimately the finale’s sheer unrelenting intensity is a problem: unlike the later Piano Concerto it turns up the emotional screws without offering any kind of resolution or release. It’s the kind of performance that makes you wonder what Schoenberg’s blood‑pressure levels were like. But that’s not a criticism of Hahn: in fact I can’t imagine this performance ever being seriously bettered. The Sibelius posesses a similar strength of conception and intensity, but there’s something missing here. Interestingly Hahn talks in her note about the ‘vulnerability’ of the violin writing in this Concerto. I think she’s right, but it’s a quality that’s curiously lacking in her performance. Cho‑Liang Lin (also with Salonen) offers a more balanced view: strength and delicacy, starkness and sweetness. However that doesn’t prevent a clear recommendation for the Schoenberg.