HAHN / ELGAR Violin Concerto + VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

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HILARY HAHN

EDWARD ELGAR
Violin Concerto · Violinkonzert op. 61

RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
The Lark Ascending
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Int. Release 15 Sep. 2004
1 SACD
0289 474 8732 6 SACD DDD GSA
SACD: Stereo & Surround Sound + CD Audio
CD DDD GH


Track List

Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958)
Hilary Hahn, London Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis

Total Playing Time 1:06:04

Hilary Hahn, not so long out of her teens, brings a maturity to this work that raises her interpretation high on the list of cornerstone recordings, helped by moving work from today's LSO under its principal conductor, Sir Colin Davis. This release deserves to be one of the autumn's outright classical winners.

Kaum den Teenagerjahren entwachsen, spielt Hilary Hahn das Werk mit einer künstlerischen Reife, die ihre Interpretation auf der Liste maßstabsetzender Aufnahmen ganz weit oben platziert.

Hilary Hahn, à peine sortie de l¿adolescence, apporte à cette ¿uvre une maturité qui hisse son ¬ interprétation au sommet des enregistrements de référence.

. . . Davis is superb. And Hahn's performance is sublime. That first entry is so confiding, the fiddling throughout is terrific and the slow movement is perhaps the most beautiful since the young Menuhin's.

Ihre Einspielung von Edward Elgars Violinkonzert mit dem London Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon) vereinigt Leidenschaft und Melancholie und ist der ideale Soundtrack für den Herbst.

. . . das, was auf diesem Silberling festgehalten wurde, ist von hoher musikalischer und interpretatorischer Qualität . . . Colin Davis hat sich seit langem kontinuierlich mit der Musik seines Landsmannes auseinandergesetzt . . . und kreiert mit dem LSO eine Atmosphäre voll leidenschaftlicher Intensität, einen Klangteppich mit feinen Nuancen, der im Pianissimo der Begleitung feinste Abstufungen eines geradezu hingehauchten Klanges findet (3. Satz), der aber auch voll auftrumpfend zur gewichtigen Gegenstimme der Solovioline werden kann (1.Satz). Nie entsteht der Eindruck des bloßen Begleitens, sondern stets handelt es sich um einen lebendigen Dialog mit der in dieser Komposition das Geschehen dominierenden Violine. Hilary Hahn spielt ihren Part mit kraftvoller Tongebung, technisch makellos, mit blitzsauberen Trillern und Griffen, die besonders virtuose (und technisch heikle) Passage der letzten Minuten gelingt ihr vorzüglich. Ihr Spiel entbehrt jeglicher Monotonie, ist aufregend und abwechslungsreich in der Phrasierung. Besonders überzeugend fallen die emotionalen Steigerungen im Finale des ersten Satzes und im letzen Dritten des dritten Satzes aus. Ihr Ton ist dabei schlank, spielt sich nicht unnötig in den Vordergrund und steht ganz im Dienst der musikalischen Entwicklung des Konzerts. Das ist keinesfalls das egoistische dargebotene Showpiece eines Popstars, sondern kultiviertes Musizieren, ganz in der Tradition der großen »romantischen« Violinkonzerte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Hilary Hahns Tugend des Zusammenspiels mit dem Orchester und dem Dirigenten zeigt sich auch in Ralph Vaughan Williams Violinromanze »The lark ascending«, die die CD beschließt. Obwohl die Violine abermals eindeutig das bestimmende Instrument ist ¿ und Hilary Hahn gelingen auch hier wunderbar entrückte Phrasen, feinste Nuancierungen und brillante Triller ¿ ist die Interpretation auch in dieser, an eine Tondichtung erinnernden Komposition, eine gemeinsame von Soloinstrument und Orchester, die sich gegenseitig zu befruchten scheinen . . . die 2003 in den Londoner Abbey Road Studios entstandenen Aufnahmen der Deutschen Grammophon [sind] klanglich einwandfrei . . . eine achtbare Produktion, die Freude beim Anhören macht, die man gerne wieder auflegt und die ein großes Violintalent auf hohem Niveau verewigt hat ¿ und die nicht zuletzt der Aufnahmenpalette des Elgar-Konzertes eine gewichtige Interpretation hinzugefügt hat.

Inzwischen ist sie eine selbstbewusste, in ihren ästhetischen Überzeugungen strenge Künstlerin von weltweitem Ruhm geworden. Hilary Hahn auf dem Podium zu erleben, heißt Bekanntschaft zu machen mit einer Welt aus Klanghelligkeit, Geistesklarheit und Intonationsreinheit, wie sie betörender nicht sein kann. Diese Reinheit der Intonation beschert ihrem ton eine seltene Fülle mitschwingender Obertöne, ihr variables Vibrato bleibt stets Farb- und Intensivierungsmittel, nie Selbstzweck; die Beherrschung der Bogengeschwindigkeit und des Verhältnisses zwischen Bogenzug und ¿druck je nach musikalischer Notwendigkeit, gibt ihrem Spiel staunenswerte Selbstverständlichkeit und klangliche Dichte; ihre Wachheit verleiht jeder Phrase genau umrissene Kontur . . . Ein Werk der englischen impressionistischen Spätromantik »The Lark Ascending«, »die Lerche steigt auf«, von Ralph Vaughan Williams . . . scheint ihr auf den Leib geschrieben zu sein . . . Hahns unirdische Leichtigkeit verzaubert Vaughan Williams' Naturbild.

On admire la virtuosité immaculée par laquelle Hilary Hahn domine magistralement l'écriture . . . En complément, une pièce subtile de Vaughan Williams, inspirée d'un poème de George Meredith, évoque le vol en suspension d'une alouette. Hilary Hahn y trouve une fluidité aérienne, s'y révélant à la fois plus sensible et plus détendue.

Hilary Hahn rayonne d'une juvénile conviction et défend un jeu chantant, émouvant, d'une incomparable fraîcheur.

Ancien élève surdouée du Curtis Institute de Philadelphie, elle est la plus brillante représentante de la jeune génération des violonistes américains . . . elle retrouve l'extraordinaire fraîcheur qui caractérisait ses premiers enregistrements.

. . . son ton, très personnel, fait admirablement ressortir le caractère rhapsodique de l'¿uvre. On s'étonne presque de découvrir sous un aussi jeune archet tant de noblesse . . . les lignes pures et mélodiques de «The Lark Ascending» trouvent en Hilary Hahn une interprète idéale, . . . aérienne et «féminine» . . . Pour cette musique anglaise, la soliste a la chance d'être secondée par le plus britannique des chefs, Colin Davis, qui sait merveilleusement, à la tête du Symphonique de Londres, mettre en lumière cette grande fresque orchestrale composée par Elgar; dans ce périlleux exercice, il fait aussi bien . . .
A Note from Hilary

As with her previous recordings, Hilary Hahn has provided a personal note for the Elgar-Vaughan Williams CD booklet. She realized while writing it that a natural form for expressing her various thoughts on these two poignant and lyrical works would be that of a poem.

The spirit of this album represents a time past
When music was quietly enhanced by words,
When gestures contained in the scribbled page
Came to life as vast statements.

It speaks for an era when creations emerged as one,
When a performance became a recording, and
Art did not have to be perfect.
Innovation and genius dwelled in the emotion,
The sentiment.

These works present humanity and nature,
Human nature,
Glimpsing youth and renewal through the eyes of the aged wise,
Revealing no secrets.

The remaining phrases declare themselves in fluid song.
We swell with those curves, following their shape
To an everlasting fade,
Yearning for the darkness that resolution brings.

Hilary Hahn

An Impassioned Concerto and a Serene Romance

Second only to the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg, this glorious work of Elgar's is the most autobiographical of all concertos. “I have written out my soul in the concerto, Sym. II & the Ode [The Music Makers] & you know it." he wrote his beloved friend Alice Stuart-Wortley in 1912. “In these three works I have shewn myself."

The public Elgar (Sir Edward since 1904), the renowned composer of oratorios, symphonies and other orchestral works, was the most prominent musician in the British Empire. There was an Elgar boom on the continent as well, and one of the distinguished musicians caught up in it was Fritz Kreisler. In 1904, a German friend of Elgar's wrote to tell him that he had just visited Kreisler and had found him at the piano, where, “deep in The Dream of Gerontius, he told me full of enthusiasm for you, whether it is true you once wrote a violin concerto & if so, he would feel happy if you would trust it to him."

Step by step, contact developed between violinist and composer, and the idea of getting a concerto out of Elgar became ever more urgent in Kreisler's mind. He told an English interviewer that he considered Elgar to be “the greatest living composer... [He] will overshadow everybody. He is on a different level... I wish Elgar would write something for violin."

Elgar took the bait. In August 1910 the work was done; on 10 November - with Kreisler as soloist and Elgar conducting - the first performance took place in London, greeted with a storm of applause after each of the three movements. Kreisler played the work often in the next few years, but ultimately disappointed Elgar, first by making cuts in the finale, then by dropping it from his repertory altogether and evading all efforts to get him to make a recording.

The formal dedication on the title page is “to Fritz Kreisler," but the score also carries an epigraph in Spanish: “Aquí está encerrada el alma de... " “Now guess," Elgar added when he told a friend about this. Whose soul is enshrined in these pages? Almost certainly it was Alice Stuart-Wortley, daughter of the painter Sir John Millais. That she shared a first name with his wife was something Elgar found hard to deal with after the two families came to be on first-name terms, and so Alice S-W became “the Windflower." It was to her that he wrote of “our concerto" and “your concerto," and he thought of certain phrases as “Windflower themes." For all its size and brilliance and “publicness," this is music of almost painful intimacy and “self-communing," to borrow a term from Elgar's biographer Michael Kennedy. And few would wish to disagree with Kennedy when he writes that “no matter whose soul [the concerto] enshrines, it enshrines the soul of the violin."

It must be the last great concerto to open with a spacious orchestral exposition in the manner of Classical concertos. The first solo entrance, in mid-phrase, is one of the most magical ever invented. The movement is rich in musical material and human experience, and full of poignant “Windflower" themes. The second movement begins gently, but it is not long before the temperature rises. One of its most arresting features is a wild phrase with a virtuosic upward leap of a twelfth. When this reappears in the recapitulation it is introduced by the “Tristan chord", quietly unmistakable, never failing to stab. The whole work is full of allusions, many of them kept private in notes scribbled in the sketches. Toward the end of his life, listening to the recording he had made with the 16-year-old Yehudi Menuhin, Elgar said: “This is where two souls merge and melt into one another."

Neither the first nor the second movement had made room for a cadenza, but the brilliant finale does. But this is not just about virtuosity; it is the work's emotional and structural focal point. Commented and punctuated by the orchestra (and as such indebted to the violin solo in Ein Heldenleben by Elgar's admirer Richard Strauss), this is the concerto's most inward music. In Elgar's own words, the violin “sadly thinks over the 1st movemt....the music [singing] of memories & hope." He himself could not play this music without tears filling his eyes. At last we wake from the dream, from the play of memory, as violin and orchestra carry the concerto to its swift and strong conclusion.

Vaughan Williams began work on the score of The Lark Ascending in 1914, the year he turned 42, but laid it aside for the duration of the war when he began his years of military and medical service. He completed it in December 1920, dedicating it to Marie Hall, who gave the first performance with piano when the ink was hardly dry and introduced it in its orchestral version in London in June 1921.

The title is George Meredith's, and Vaughan Williams prefaces the score with lines from his poem by that name:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
. . . . . .
For singing till his heaven fills,
'Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes.
. . . . . .
Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Against an orchestral background of meditative stillness - established at once by a chord of clarinets, horns and strings - the violin rises in unmeasured flight, its continual motion soon settling into lilting song. A more dancelike section is connected to four lines of Meredith that Vaughan Williams cited in the manuscript but omitted from the printed score:

He is the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose banks
And eyes of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe...

The earlier music returns, and at the end, the violin, whose melismas are the lark's song, spirals ever higher “till lost on his aerial rings / In light... "

Much as, among so many things, Elgar's concerto enshrines the incomparable richness of Kreisler's sound, so The Lark Ascending is a memento of the playing of Marie Hall, one of whose teachers was Elgar. Vaughan Williams first heard her in 1908 when she was 24, and her playing then touched him deeply with its intelligence, serenity and purity.

Michael Steinberg
5/2004