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 Recording of the Week  Hilary Hahn plays Schoenberg and Sibelius

At first glance Hilary Hahn’s decision to pair the popular Sibelius Violin Concerto with that of Arnold Schoenberg on her new CD seems an odd choice. While the former is a favourite both in the concert hall and on CD, the latter only very rarely gets an outing. Hahn claims that the composers had much in common – “both broad-minded, inquisitive men who liked exploring new things” and both with a “deep love of the visual arts”. But listen to their music and it is hard to notice many similarities.

Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn

Schoenberg wrote his Violin Concerto in 1936, a few years after he had moved to New York to escape the Nazis. He was writing some tonal works around that time but returned to his twelve-tone technique for the Concerto (this is a method of composition devised by Schoenberg which gives every note equal importance and thus avoids being in any key). I think this concerto has been rather neglected because people fear that this compositional method sacrifices any potential for expressive content. This is simply not the case. Yes it is hard at first hearing because you never know what is round the next corner but get to know it a bit and I think you’ll find it is exciting, imaginative and really quite romantic music.

The Sibelius Concerto is well known for its romantic, slightly cold character, but for its time (1903) it was quite a forward-looking piece. It has an unconventional structure and wide contrasts in style and mood. I suppose when you get under the surface a bit these two works may not be as disparate as they first appear.

As far as the performances go this disc is first class. There isn’t much competition to compare the Schoenberg with as only a handful of other recordings are in the catalogue, but because Hahn is technically so secure and so familiar with the work she can play the Concerto from the heart. As the Daily Telegraph wrote on a live performance of the work “Hahn didn’t merely play the notes, she passionately engaged with them”. Her Sibelius is probably slightly more deliberately held back. Very romantic interpretations tend to miss the haunting and nostalgic side of the music, while if you go too far the other way you miss the moments of ecstasy and genuine love that Sibelius poured into this work. I think Hahn has got it about right and with her beautiful sound and technical brilliance she makes a compelling case.

DG have provided a E-Player for this release which gives you a decent sound sample of both Concertos. You can find this via the link below.

Schoenberg and Sibelius Violin Concertos

Hilary Hahn (violin)Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Out today - March 10th

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC