Hilary Hahn in Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, opus 19 by Sergei Prokofiev received quite the response from the crowd at Symphony Hall on Thursday night, March 11. The young American violinist showed a knack for grasping a thing of beauty and power and then displaying its magnificence for all to behold. Many stood, all applauded heartily, and after several rounds of taking bows, Hahn acquiesced with the Loure movement from Bach’s Partita No. 3. It, too, received enthusiastic noises from an approving audience. Hahn has appeared twice previously with the BSO. Hopefully, she will be back again soon.
Hahn’s violin and Prokofiev’s concerto matched up magically. Throughout the unusual and seductive three-movement work, she somehow summoned spacious atmospheres possessed by the apposite momentum. Onstage, her enchantment with the 1916-17 oeuvre was undeniably verified. The recently-named Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year and two-time Grammy Award-winning soloist danced as she played, with sharp-edged, reveling choreography.
An expansive, ethereal world issued forth in the final passages of the Andantino. Here, finally, the orchestra settled in—or maybe just started catching on—as they seemed quiet and not quite there through most of this first movement. Scherzo: Vivacissimo, the short spirited second movement, whizzed and whooshed with soloist pressing orchestra on. Here, Hahn allowed a totally confident virtuosity to be superseded by a deep resonance with the Russian’s maverick score.
At one point, during an orchestral passage without her, she turned and nodded to the first violins. Later, Hahn, in a similar way, recognized other sections of the orchestra subtly but convincingly. And at one point, she even looked out into the audience, wanting to make still further contact. Such was the case, I would believe, when she bent over, and then suddenly sprang upright, signaling to the audience a single pizzicato note, drawing complete attention to her plucking one single note not with her right hand, which we would naturally follow, but rather with her left hand.
Splendacious violinism, poise and shining youth persisted all the way into the sustained trills toward the close of the Moderato—Allegro moderato the last movement from Prokofiev’s own fairly youthful concerto statement (he was born in 1891).
Hahn’s slow and contrapuntal Bach indulged in refinement. But it was her absolute attention to making the violin speak in two distinct voices that for a stretch of time achieved spellbinding dialogue.
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos led the BSO in a brilliantly colored “Scheherazade,” Symphonic Suite, opus 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Tremolos and pizzicatos from the strings created hyper-frenzy to hyper-delicacy. Malcolm Lowe projected his violin solos on the tight side. Cellist Martha Babcock took on arpeggios and melodic motives with grace and warmth. Improvised sounding passages from woodwinds delightfully freed the many predictable flourishes in the suite, morphing them into ear-catching motives.
Steven Ledbetter’s informative program notes were a great help in guiding us through what otherwise might have been a maze of scenarios based on the tales from the Thousand and One Nights. He helped us understand that in the end the composer would be happy if the listener enjoyed his “piece as symphonic music…an oriental narrative.” The exquisite orchestration and realization held attention. Drama it was not. Rather, a high level of orchestral display. In the final climax, brasses were allowed to overpower the strings—and others. Several obvious fluffed entries surprised.
Opening the concert with two orchestrations by the conductor and one by Enrique Fernández Arbós of piano pieces by Isaac Albéniz seemed at first to be a stroke of programming inventiveness. The music never lifted off, one reason being that all three selections were on the slow side and just did not work that well together as a group. Hearing the gorgeous harp sound so clearly in all of these pieces was one of the truly refreshing features of the concert.
The same concert will be given again Friday, March 12, 1:30 pm, Saturday, March 13, 8 pm, and Tuesday, March 16, 8pm.