MOZART Violin Sonatas Hilary Hahn / Zhu


Violin Sonatas
Sonates pour Violon
KV 301 · KV 304
KV 376 · KV 526
Hilary Hahn
Natalie Zhu
Int. Release 01 Sep. 2005
1 CD / Download
0289 477 5572 2
CD DDD 0289 477 5572 2 GH
Hilary Hahn kicks off Deutsche Grammophon's celebration of Mozart Year 2006 with her first-ever Mozart studio recording, a selection of her favorite violin sonatas by the Austrian master.

Track List

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Violin Sonata No. 24 in F Major, K. 376



Violin Sonata No. 18 in G Major, K. 301


Violin Sonata No. 21 in E Minor, K. 304


Violin Sonata No. 35 in A Major, K. 526



Hilary Hahn, Natalie Zhu

Total Playing Time 1:09:42

On this pleasing new CD, Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu show themselves entirely happy with Mozart's ordering of things, and there is no feeling of artificality in the recorded balance, which accords each instrument its natural place. Both instruments sound very well, tempos are thoughtfully chosen . . . Overall, these are attentive, . . . exciting readings, and the programme is well chosen.

Hahn's sweet, intense tone is as alluring as ever.

She plays gorgeously. Her pianist, Natalie Zhu, makes very nice sounds, too . . . Hahn and Zhu offer something closer to ear candy . . . Hahn's high-profile release . . . proves that Mozart's stepchild sonatas have fully arrived.

Hahn brings . . . intellectual curiosity and scholarly precision to her playing. These qualities are amply demonstrated on her newest recording, in which she performs four of her favorite Mozart sonatas with a longtime musical partner, the elegant pianist Natalie Zhu . . .

Those who prefer the bigger sound of modern instruments will be relieved to hear Hilary Hahn's singing tone and all-around robustness¿[Natalie Zhu¿s] playing bubbles over with the wit and charm of a major Mozartean. In fact, Zhu's performance makes her disc the most desirable of the three. 3 ½ stars.

Those who prefer the bigger sound of modern instruments will be relieved to hear Hilary Hahn's singing tone and all-around robustness . . . Natalie Zhu's playing bubbles over with the wit and charm of a major Mozartean . . .

Put on Hahn's K.376 and the culture shock is striking -- a taut opening chord, prim pianism, with brilliant runs from the soloist, otherwise a sweet, rather formal smile and very little in the way of expressive inflection. As violin playing per se, I can't think of anyone alive who produces a more ravishing sound or controls their sound more skilfully. The opening of K.301 is immediately arresting while the combination of expressive tone and calculated understatment especially suits the E minor Sonata, K.304.

Listening to a disc such as this makes me realise how privileged I am to be a reviewer. Duo-playing of this quality comes one's way so seldom -- these two musicians, who have been working together for ten years, clearly have much more in common than their dactylic first names and monosyllabic second names. If I mention the pianist first, that is only apt, because Mozart thought of these sonatas as being for piano and violin. Natalie Zhu produces a lovely soft tone from the instrument and phrases as if she is handling something with a brath rather than an assemblage of wood and wire. She seems to 'think' cantabile even while playing quite crisply. And she is answered by Hilary Hahn with the most beautiful of violin tones, never too lush and always dead in tune. Phrase after phrase is traded between the players with exquisite judgement and rare sympathy. Every time Mozart comes up with one of his amazing fresh ideas, it emerges as if the player has just thought of it herself . . . the players do such wonderful things with their unadorned lines that I am not bored for an instant . . . in virtually every respect, this is a model presentation of heart-easing music.

There is an energised purity and aristocratic poise about Hahn's playing here which reminds me of the great Henryk Szeryng. Everything she does, both musically and technically, is so exquisitely subtle that one can only sit in wonder at the sheer comprehensiveness of it all. Zhu proves the perfect partner, gliding in and out of her altenating leading and supporting roles with an ease and intuitiveness that makes it all sound deceptively easy. More please!

This lovely disc of Mozart's Violin Sonatas amply illustrates two points: the benefits of musicians working together closely for years, so that they become virtually telepathic when it comes to their performances; and the sheer undiluted joy to be found in certain compositions, particularly compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . . . Although young they play with both polished professionalism and stunning technical ability, although polished and professional, they play with youthful energy joined to a sense of pleasure and discovery. Mozart's exuberant gift for melody and fun is fully displayed in this quartet of sonatas. For those who might still be unconvinced of the delight of chamber music, this disc would be an excellent place to begin an exploration.

It doesn't get any better than this. Now add that they are played by two young artists who probably are making many older and experienced ones look to their laurels and you can indeed believe that this recording is a guaranteed winner . . . Hahn is amazing. Only 25 years old, she is truly a major talent . . . Zhu has performed throughout North America, Asia and Europe as a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. As for the splendid artistry displayed by the pair, it is the result of more than a decade of partnership on the concert stage.

The beautifully matched artistry of violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Natalie Zhu yields an exquisite new album . . . Hahn, one of the supreme artists of our time . . .

Gen-X violinists Hahn and Zhu are a well-matched team, bringing out the Sonatas' enchantment. Hahn's emotional tone and relatively liberal use of portamento made me think of prewar violinists.

There is no sweeter tone coming from a violin these days than that from young Hilary Hahn . . . From start to finish, this CD is a complete joy.

Hilary Hahn, who has come to terms so brilliantly with such diverse repertoire at such an early age proves that, still in her musical youth, she can challenge sterling interpretations of Mozart as well. Her performances with Natalie Zhu reveal a mastery of the bold gesture (as in the first movement of the Sonata, K 376) and the flowing line (as in the slow movement of the Sonata, K 301). The interpretive forest doesn't obscure the trees: nuances abound in the simplest phrases (and occasionally even single notes evoke worlds of expression), without ever seeming the least bit fussy -- on the contrary, they appear as natural as breathing. Her violin . . . sounds stentorian in the most commanding phrases, occasionally making an almost instantaneous connection between ear and gut . . . her performances, . . . surpass any I've heard. And the stirring recorded sound adds an extra measure of urgency to an already urgent recommendation. Essential.

Without question she is one of the finest, most capable, and most sensitive violinists on the concert stage today . . . These accounts . . . are lyrical, beautifully phrased, rhythmically alert, and in a word, articulate . . . The recording is deliciously close. It puts you in the page-turner¿s seat.

Früher galten die Sonaten als Exoten; längst aber haben Virtuosen und Originalklang-Interpreten die ansprechend-anspruchsvollen Stücke entdeckt. Hilary Hahns Bach-Solosonaten sind schon einzigartig; mit der für sie typischen Klarheit geht sie nun Mozart an. Das klingt toll, süffig, richtig nach Geige, ist herrlich frisch, beweglich. Bei Natalie Zhu vermisst man nie den Hammerflügel, labt sich am satten Flügel-Ton und an perlenden Läufen aus Mozarts Eingebung.

Hört man Mozarts Sonaten für Klavier und Violine in der Interpretation mit Hilary Hahn und Natalie Zhu, fällt auf Anhieb die vorbildliche Klangbalance auf, mit der die beiden Instrumente abgebildet wurden . . . Spontaneität und Emotion halten sich die Waage, größte Sorgfalt und Präzision sind selbstverständlich. Hahn und Zhu spielen perfekt zusammen, ohne je routiniert zu wirken. Zwischen ihnen entwickelt sich ein inniges und spannungsreiches Wechselspiel, ein inspiriertes Geben und Nehmen. Entscheidend wird diese Interpretation geprägt von Hahns voller, farbenreicher Tongebung . . . Qualitäten wie Klarheit, Tonschönheit und Natürlichkeit erhalten hier ein besonderes Gewicht. Hilary Hahn und Natalie Zhu haben davon ebenso viel zu bieten wie ihre prominenten Vorbilder. Ein gelungener Auftakt zum kommenden Mozart-Jahr.

Sie ist so zierlich wie ein Geigenhals, hat die fragile Aura einer Ballerina: doch in der Musik hat sie eine phänomenale Kraft: Hilary Hahn hat sich schon in jungen Jahren zu einer Geigen-Persönlichkeit entwickelt . . . mit der aktuellen Mozart-CD zeigt sie sich . . . nun mit einem sehr geschmackvoll gespielten (und auch tontechnisch superb aufgenommenen) Kammermusik-Programm: Mozart-Violinsonaten. Am Klavier begleitet von ihrer langjährigen musikalischen Wegbegleiterin Natalie Zhu erlebt man mit der vorliegenden Klangkonserve einen wirklich perlenden Melodiefluss. Faszinierend, wie Hilary Hahn ganz und gar nicht Konzertsolistin ist, sondern in einem intensiven Dialog mit ihrer Kammermusikpartnerin über den Stücken schwebt. Man hat so eine Reinheit im Klang nur selten gehört . . .

Erfreulich, wenn sich mit Hilary Hahn und Natalie Zhu zwei Duo-Partner für Mozarts Kostbarkeiten engagieren. Im erwärmenden Timbre der Geigerin, geschmackssicher in den noch so kleinen Wendungen, tönt die Sonate KV 301 -- ein herrliches Hausmusikstück. Fein austariert in Stimmführung und Begleitung imponiert das harmonisch ideenreiche e-Moll Werk KV 304. In den arienhaften Ausbrüchen des sprühenden Finales von KV 526 perlt nichts einfach wie geschmiert dahin, sondern schlägt Funken, zumal sich Natalie Zhu (Klavier) als eine impulsgebende Mitstreiterin erweist.

Dass die beiden sich prima verstehen, merkt man der Aufnahme vom ersten Ton an . . . vital, energisch . . . Beide verstehen sich als Partner, keiner drängelt sich vor. Hahn spielt ihren Mozart souverän, sie verleiht ihm, bei aller Reinheit der Intonation, ein gewisses Maß an dynamischer Innenspannung . . .

Auf Hilary Hahns erster, Mozartsonaten gewidmeter, Kammermusik-CD mit ihrer Klavierpartnerin Natalie Zhu nimmt sofort die schlackenlose Dichte ihrer Ton-Emission gefangen, bewundert man die Präzision der geigerischen Mittel, die Biegsamkeit ihrer Melodieführung, die Geistesgegenwart im Zusammenspiel . . . Da leuchtet es klar und con spirito.

Ihr Mozart ist frisch, lebensecht, unverfälscht.

Aimard spielt Mozart mit Größe und kristallinem Witz, mit Schwung und Gemütlichkeit, mit lateinischer Klarheit und Grandezza, er ist lyrisch ohne Verzärtelung, vertritt Mozarts Härte und Mozarts Nachgiebigkeit, kurzum: Er ist der ideale Mozart-Pianist. Weil er ihn liebt. Und weil er lang genug auf ihn gewartet hat.

Partly translated:
Aimard plays Mozart with grandeur and wit, with passion and ease, with Latin clarity and grandezza, he is lyrical without overdoing it, he brings out Mozart's severity and Mozart's compassion. In short: He is the ideal Mozart pianist. Because he loves him. And because he waited long enough.

Es ist ein glücklicher Zufall und bei der Wahl der vier eingespielten Violinsonaten beweisen die zwei erneut ein »glückliches Händchen«, bieten sie doch nicht nur einen gelungenen Einblick in Mozarts Schaffen, sondern sie fordern von den Interpretinnen auch all deren Können . . . die vier Violinsonaten [stellen] höchste Ansprüche an die beiden Interpretinnen, denen die jungen Musikerinnen glücklicher Weise jederzeit gewachsen sind. Die Interpretation Hahns und Zhus orientiert sich stark an Mozarts Vorgaben, sodass ihre Spielweise sehr transparent und nachvollziehbar wird . . . Es gibt Phasen, in denen das Klavier das melodische Spiel der Geige ornamental verschönt und es existieren Momente, in denen sich die Geige behutsam zurücknimmt, um dem Klavier größere Freiräume in der Themenentfaltung zu zugestehen. Der Klang ist insgesamt sehr ausgewogen und differenziert und so bekommt man den Eindruck, dass sehr »bewusst« musiziert wird. Das Zusammenspiel der beiden ist unglaublich eindrucksvoll und erscheint wie aus einem Guss. Letztlich merkt man der gesamten Aufnahme an, dass beide Musikerinnen die gleiche Auffassung von Mozart verbindet und sie sich darüber hinaus blind verstehen. Technisch musizieren sie ohnehin auf extrem hohem Niveau. Während beispielsweise in den langsamen Sätzen der »lange« Bogen Hahns und dessen Ausdruckskraft positiv auffällt, so ist es in den schnellen Sätzen oft Zhus virtuoses und brillantes Spiel, welches begeistern kann. Heraus kommt eine wahnsinnig stimmige und begeisternde Interpretation der vier Violinsonaten, die beim Hören ein regelrechtes Suchtgefühl auslösen.

In ihrer Aufnahme von vier Sonaten aus unterschiedlichen Schaffensphasen spielt sie schön, intensiv, herzlich, auch ohne aufgesetzte Virtuosität. Nuancen werden sorgfältig ausgespielt, mit der gebotenen poetischen Delikatesse kommen die langsamen Sätze . . .

Nebst der . . . F-Dur-Sonate (K. 376) haben die beiden seit ihrer Studienzeit zusammen musizierenden jungen Amerikanerinnen sich für weitere Gipfelwerke der Gattung entschieden. Eine kluge Auswahl, die der gebändigten Sorgfalt ihres Zusammenspiels sehr entgegenkommt . . . alles [wirkt] wunderbar analytisch und ausgewogen, fast als gälte es, nach jahrhundertelanger Verschüttung einen längst verloren geglaubten Schatz zu heben.

On y trouve une présence physique de la matière sonore, y compris chez la pianiste, qui donne à cette Sonate un aire plus grave, aux deux sens du terme, que d'habtitude: on ne saurait dire que nos musiciennes jouent de leur jeunesse pour faire dans le gracieux! Hilary Hahn peut ainsi déveloper son vibrato qui fait une parfaite introduction à ce corpus . . .

. . . son exceptionnelle technique n'a rien perdu de son acuité. Le chant est franc, sans vibratos intempestifs, la main gauche d'une agilité admirable.

. . . magnífica interpretación de Hahn (sin duda, ya, una de las grandes) [Mozart]
. . . su sonido es brillante y su técnica es tan segura como convincente . . . una madurez sorprendentemente precoz pues ya no impresiona al público y a la crítica por su juventud, sino por su talento musical más allá de su edad.

En la K. 526 . . . desarrollan melodías de una inspiración prodigiosa. Un disco para ser más feliz.

. . . un Mozart interiorizado y sentido como propio que DG ha tenido a bien acercarnos en un disco espléndido.

Pocas reparos técnicos pueden ponerse a Hilary Hahn, una de las violinistas más interesantes y completas surgidas en los últimos años.

La Hahn possiede una personalità strumentale prorompente, da grande protagonista, con un suono dal timbro rotondo e d'intensa espressione. Nel fraseggio di questa giovane musicista ritroviamo il carattere die grandi solisti.
Youthful Energy and Deep Understanding

Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu Play Mozart Violin Sonatas
Fine interpretations, like many of the finer things in life, can take years to mature but are worth waiting for. Hilary Hahn's new recording is a distillation of her love for the music of Mozart, and of the musical bond formed more than a decade ago with pianist Natalie Zhu.

This recording is brimming with energy and fearlessness, tempered by a deep understanding of - and respect for - the music. Throughout the time they have known each other, Ms. Hahn and Ms. Zhu have fed their musical partnership with repertoire of all eras and origins, but Mozart's sonatas for piano and violin have proven a common denominator. "Our tours together have given us the opportunity to live with these sonatas day in and day out," says Hahn. The result combines the spontaneity and emotional output of a concert with the meticulous care and dedicated excellence of a studio recording.

The two musicians crossed paths more than a decade ago while fellow students at Philadelphia's renowned Curtis Institute of Music, and have worked together ever since. Early on, they sat down with the complete volume of Mozart's piano-and-violin sonatas, sight-reading all of them in the course of a few weeks. "My teacher had told me to pick out a Mozart sonata to learn, so we started at the beginning and went through each one", Hahn recalls. "There's something special about playing the music as opposed to simply listening. You get to experience for yourself which sonatas you connect to particularly well, which helps when planning what to work on in the future. As it turned out, we enjoyed reading them all." Since Hahn had to pick just one or two to learn at the time, she took notes as their sessions progressed; she still has the pencil markings in her music to prove it. Years later, when Hahn and Zhu had the difficult task of choosing just four of the 18 to record, they returned to her score to see which ones had captured their attention from the start. "I had put stars or double stars by them, and notes to myself like 'should learn this one', or 'beautiful slow movement', or 'wonderful character'," Hahn reminisces. "Now that we've had the chance to work on them in depth, we've been able to discover much more about them than we had noticed initially - and that makes us eager to uncover every possible aspect of each sonata that Mozart wrote."

By the time she was 16, Hilary Hahn was well on her way to what, by any standards, has become an extraordinary international career. She had completed the university requirements for her bachelor's degree; she had recorded her first album - three unaccompanied sonatas and partitas by Bach - which became a best-seller on several continents; and she was performing to international acclaim. She loved collaborating with Ms. Zhu, but their schedules didn't always correspond, especially when Zhu pursued her ambition of earning a masters' degree from Yale. "They told me I had to decide between my degree and my concerts. So Hilary played with another pianist while I finished my masters," says Zhu. In the past few years, though, Hahn has worked exclusively with Zhu in many recital tours around the world - in Europe, Asia, Britain and North America.

Naturally, when it came to recording this sonata album, Ms. Hahn was keen to work with her regular partner. "This is my first Mozart recording, and also my first duo sonata disc to be released. I have been looking forward to this album for a long while - so it seems almost symbolically appropriate that for this project I should join forces with someone to whom I have such a connection."

In fact, their history with Mozart's sonatas began before their first reading sessions at the Curtis Institute; they programmed Mozart in their first-ever overseas recital. Anticipating their rapport, pianist Gary Graffman, director of the Curtis Institute and Zhu's teacher at the time, sent them off to play at a festival in the picturesque medieval chateau of Sully-sur-Loire. Mozart's E minor Sonata was part of that program.

"Whenever I play that piece now, I remember being back in France when I was 13 - half my life ago - with Natalie, in the Guard's Hall of the chateau," Hahn says. "The piece itself is really unusual. It starts out mysteriously and has such a beautiful, sad, yet enigmatic melody. It's enticing to performers and listeners alike. And it's challenging for the piano; the violin has to pick up on what the pianist is doing and run with it. Not every composer awards the piano that kind of musical initiative."

After more than a decade of rehearsing and concertizing as a duo, the experienced way in which these players communicate through the music makes their interpretation intensely satisfying. There's little need for discussion: each can guess what the other is thinking. "We get along very well both as friends and as musical partners," Zhu says. "Our playing and our attitudes toward music are similar, which reduces the stress on tour!"
That doesn't mean they relax in concerts, however. "I don't always do what Hilary's expecting," says Ms. Zhu. "We give each other surprises, we improvise - that's what makes it so much fun."

A highlight of 2005 for Hilary and Natalie has undoubtedly been the young musicians' Far East tour, taking in China (where Natalie was born), Bangkok (where Hilary's parents met, while studying there), Hanoi, Phnom Penh (including a Red Cross benefit concert for Cambodian orphanages) and Singapore. Their performance in Vietnam fell during the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. "President Clinton went a few years ago, and at the time, there was a lot on the news about Vietnam - how it was earlier and how it is now. I had always been interested in going, but I wanted the timing to be appropriate. Seeing all of that footage, I knew that this would be a good time to go," Hahn says. "Americans who go to Vietnam now are kind of welcomed, and I think that's amazing. For me this trip was more of an adventure than a statement; few Western artists play there, so I didn't really know what the performance experience there would be like. Sometime in the future, I'd like to work with a Vietnamese orchestra and interact with Vietnamese musicians a little bit more. But right now, I'm happy to have been there for this recital."

Next year (2006) is a big year for Mozart - his 250th anniversary. Hahn is pleased to be leading off the celebrations with an autumn release. "When I first scheduled this album, I wasn't aware that it would coincide with Mozart's 250th anniversary. But I can't complain about the coincidence! I'm glad that it worked out this way." Other Mozart releases planned by DG include high-profile artists such as Anna Netrebko and Maurizio Pollini.
"Mozart's writing is distinctive and intriguing," Ms. Hahn comments. "You can identify his music immediately. But, in his case, that doesn't mean that each piece sounds the same - far from it. As a performer, one of my main goals is to highlight out each work's individual musical characteristics, though Mozart makes that easier than you might expect. All four of these works display their personalities subtly but almost immediately. No one disputes that Mozart was a great composer, but the fact that he was able to maintain his style through so many works in his lifetime, without any of it sounding homogenous - that's quite a compliment to his abilities."

And a compliment to the composer that such a talented and thoughtful young performer has chosen to make an album to add to his legacy. "Anniversaries are important," she affirms, "but I believe that great composers are celebrated every time their music is played. It's a testament to the endurance of their art."

Amanda Holloway