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Schoenberg & Sibelius Violin Concertos

Hilary Hahn & Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen

DGG CD 477 7346

This CD was requested for review with a hope to really come to grips with the Schoenberg concerto, heard on and off for many decades, never learned to love...

This was quite a different experience; long exposure to contemporary music in all its idioms must have helped, but Schoenberg has become a different composer in the 21st century. No longer difficult, obscure and abrasive, the music sounds as natural as - - Sibelius. A performance to hear again and again till it flows in the blood as it does in Hilary Hahn's.

The Sibelius too is a fine, sensitive account, good to live with; not as wrenching an experience as for me was Ginette Neveu in the BBC Maida Vale Studios playing it for broadcasting in the 1940s (shortly before her death in a plane crash decided Menuhin to never fly again) but none the worse for being scrupulously considered in every detail.

Must we learn to accept balance on disc slightly favouring the soloist? I guess there is no escape from that. I have been pleased to have and listen to Salonen's Sibelius symphonies set, not everyone's favourites, and his partnership here is immaculate, notwithstanding my only meeting with him being etched in Musical Pointers' annals.

CD presentation has long concerned us and this disc is particularly interesting for its omissions. There is nothing of the usual over-inclusive CV, but everything is easily to be found on line, e.g. that Hilary Hahn plays Bach every day... I am sure she will have won prizes in such competitions as she chose to enter, and will have benefitted from those master classes she attended without needing to boast of the teachers' eminence.

Instead, she gives us a personal account of her learning process for each of the concertos, that of Schoenberg especially illuminating and reassuring; legendarily unplayable - Heifetz - and not to be found in the music shops.

Are her fingers as fluent on a laptop as with her violin? She makes us feel that she really wrote it, and does type (rather than dictate) the very personal touring diary on her friendly website, which tells of her London appearance at Cadogan Hall (Franck, Mozart - with a minor fiasco - Brahms, Ysaye and Ives) leaving me chagrined that I'd missed it.

There are several publicity photos in the booklet, including a rather worrying one in which Hilary smiles cheerfully, brandishing her Vuillaume instrument like a weapon; to represent this serious artist at her peak pushing thirty, I have preferred the thoughtful image here.

Do buy the CD and look out to hear Hilary Hahn play live.

Peter Grahame Woolf