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Schoenberg, Sibelius: Violin Concertos / Hilary Hahn, Esa-pekka Salonen, Swedish Radio So

Release Date: 04/08/2008 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001085802   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Arnold SchoenbergJean Sibelius
Performer:  Hilary Hahn
Conductor:  Esa-Pekka Salonen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This coupling is unusual, to say the least. Schoenberg's 12-tone music has the undeserved reputation of being unusually difficult, at least to the extent that his tonal music is, if anything, just as knotty and uncompromising. Even so, the Violin Concerto is notorious for standing among the ugliest pieces of music ever conceived by the human mind, but below the surface there's a lot of brilliant and (yes) expressive invention going on. The only question is how hard you, the listener, feel like working, and how much the performance rewards your time and effort. The first recording that "did it" for me was the Craft/Schulte version on Koch; but this one is even finer, and not just because it
Read more knocks about four minutes off the overall timing of the piece.

If you're just taking the plunge, start with the finale. It contains several memorable tunes and motives that recur with relative frequency, in a clear march rhythm. Listen to the ease and bravura with which Hahn tosses off the percussion-accompanied cadenza that marks her entrance after the opening tutti, or to her almost insolent brilliance in the rapid passagework in harmonics (at measure 598, for example, if you have a score). It's not just that Hahn has mastered the work technically, but she also uses her command of the notes to create feeling. Thus, Schoenberg marks the opening of the slow movement "grazioso", and at first you think he must be kidding, but Hahn and Salonen deliver the expressive goods. It's an amazing performance, plain and simple, quite possibly the finest the piece has yet been given, and enjoyable on that basis alone.

Aside from the fact that both composers' last names begin with the letter "S", the Sibelius has this in common with the Schoenberg: while full of technical difficulties, it sounds more personal to its composer than it does like a virtuoso violin concerto. Hahn's view of this work is remarkably sensitive, from her hesitant initial entrance to her unusually light and dance-like finale. Salonen follows her every step of the way. The orchestra gradually grows more animated by imperceptible degrees, along with the solo, until the full forces finally burst out menacingly at the end of the first-movement exposition. It's a difficult conception to bring off, requiring very tight coordination between conductor and violinist, but it works very well here. Although Hahn doesn't stint on the Romantic element, especially in the central Adagio, the purity and poise she brings to the music relates it more closely to the composer's later, more obviously neoclassical works than, say, to the Tchaikovsky concerto with which it's so often paired on disc.

As already suggested, both pieces benefit from the close cooperation between Hahn and the orchestra, and happily DG's engineers find an excellent balance between the two. Every detail of the solo registers clearly, but without sounding artificially forward. In the Sibelius this means that we don't get the uncomfortable feeling of two independent pieces of music going on simultaneously, and in the Schoenberg you really can follow the motivic interplay between the violin and the larger ensemble. I hesitated before giving this disc a top recommendation, if only because no matter how fine the performances are, I don't want to give the misleading impression that on hearing the Schoenberg those resistant to the idiom will suddenly have some sort of 12-tone epiphany. I can't say what the chances of that happening may be, but if it's going to happen at all, this astonishing interpretation offers your best bet. Coupled to a truly characterful and personal view of the Sibelius, this disc ratifies Hahn's standing among the most outstanding violinists active today.

--David Hurwitz,
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 47 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Hilary Hahn (Violin)
Conductor:  Esa-Pekka Salonen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903-1905; Finland 
Concerto for Violin, Op. 36 by Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Hilary Hahn (Violin)
Conductor:  Esa-Pekka Salonen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935-1936; USA 

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