Beethoven, Bernstein

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Bernstein
WORKS: Serenade for Violin, Strings, Harp & Percussion
PERFORMER: Hilary Hahn (violin); Baltimore SO/David Zinman
The Beethoven starts very promisingly, with homogeneous orchestral sound, and a recording that lets all the detail come through. But doubts soon set in: do the rhythms really have to be quite so four-square? And where is the intensity of the fortissimo in the tutti before the entry of the soloist? When she does enter, Hilary Hahn shows that she has a pure, sweet tone, and a technique that makes light of all the purely practical problems inherent in playing the notes. If only that were all that were necessary. I got very little impression of real engagement with the music: rhythms are literal, and the passagework is just a series of (beautifully accurate) notes. It is almost as if Hahn and Zinman are scared of the piece. This is especially damaging in the slow movement, where every phrase of the solo line needs to be invested with meaning to avoid the appearance of mere embellishment. On the other hand, the rondo, being the most virtuoso of the movements, comes off very effectively. But throughout, memories of Zehetmair’s wonderful recent version kept creeping into my ears. Everyone sounds far more at home in the Bernstein: Hahn’s tone suits the Romantic style of the music, and she inhabits it with much greater comfort. In both the introduction to the first movement and in the Adagio, she finds a genuine, touching rubato, and there is real commitment from the orchestra, with crisp rhythms when needed – the jazzy knees-up in the finale is carried off with great aplomb – as well as a good wallow in some of Bernstein’s more excessive heart-on-sleeve passages. Martin Cotton