Sac­ri­fic­ing play­ful­ness for grandeur

BACH: SONATAS 1 & 2, PARTITA 1

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - THE CRITICAL LIST - By Ivan Hewett

Hi­lary Hahn Decca

A few weeks ago Yo-Yo Ma re­leased a won­der­ful disc of Bach’s Suites for solo cello. Now comes a new record­ing of the first two Sonatas for solo vi­olin, plus the first Partita, by the young Amer­i­can vi­o­lin­ist Hi­lary Hahn, who’s now firmly es­tab­lished among the first-rank vir­tu­oso play­ers. It’s more ev­i­dence that Bach’s works for solo stringed in­stru­ment never go out of fash­ion. They of­fer a spe­cial kind of chal­lenge to play­ers, be­cause wo­ven into the mu­sic’s ap­par­ently plain melodic line are the out­lines of a full, many-voiced sound. Like a por­trait con­densed into a sil­hou­ette, the mu­sic sug­gests more than it says.

The vi­olin pieces are more ob­vi­ously vir­tu­oso, of­ten re­quir­ing the soloist to play two, three or even four notes at once. Ev­ery bar re­quires mu­si­cal de­ci­sions, above the com­pli­cated fugues in the vi­olin sonatas, so the scope for va­ri­ety of in­ter­pre­ta­tion is im­mense. Some vi­o­lin­ists, in­clud­ing Chris­tian Tet­zlaff, think there’s mourn­ing hid­den in the sonatas, as they were writ­ten just after the death of Bach’s first wife Maria Bar­bara. It gives his re­cent record­ing a spe­cial ner­vous in­ten­sity, which is thrilling but robs the mu­sic of its poise and grandeur.

Grandeur is def­i­nitely the key­note of Hahn’s disc, which in some re­spects is hugely im­pres­sive. Ev­ery time a sec­tion in a slow move­ment reaches its close she stretches out the fi­nal note with a long dimin­u­endo, as if to sug­gest that it ex­tends to in­fin­ity, beyond our hear­ing. Hahn has an iron­clad tech­nique, with su­per­hu­man bow con­trol, and in her hands the more as­sertive pieces

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