Review: Hilary Hahn at the Palladium 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SAM JONES

Carmel Palladium Classics Series
Oct. 21

Friday was violinist Hilary Hahn's fourth Indianapolis appearance since 2003. The first three were in ISO concerts, in which she played concertos by Elgar, Sibelius and Jennifer Higdon respectively. I gave her the highest praise I've ever given a fiddler who's come to our environs since I started reviewing for NUVO in 1995. Her tone, her musicality and her technique have been unsurpassed - or even unequaled - by other touring soloists on that instrument, some, however, coming rather close. (The most recent one was Augustin Hadelich, 2006 gold medalist in our Indy Violin Competition.)

This time Hahn appeared with Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa in a recital. Seating 1600 and being highly reverberant, the Palladium is perhaps not the ideal venue for a recital, but the main floor was at least half filled, with the side and back tiers (where the acoustics are best tamed) even better populated. The duo's program choice, mainly repeated throughout their present tour, was a fascinating mix of three familiar repertoire standards interspersed among 12 contemporary "encores" - part of the 27 Hahn and Lisitsa will release on a CD entitled, In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores, following their 2012-13 tour.

Since the program-booklet listing-order of the pieces was not followed at all, Hahn introduced each recital offering from a stage microphone. (When she first spoke, she expressed being startled at the high reverb, but thereafter "went" with it.) The pair began with "Two Voices" by Nico Muhly, a soft reverie with Lisitsa offering a single, note-tapping accompaniment. This, as well as succeeding pieces, scarcely lasted two to three minutes each. We heard seven "encores" before we heard the first repertoire work, Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 12 No. 2.

Then, returning to more encores, we heard "Memory Games" by Avner Dorman, showing lots of rhythmic sparkle. Hahn began the second half with Bach's Sonata in G Minor for Solo Violin, in which she brought all her expressive elements to bear, especially in its "fugue" movement, so similar in rhythmic motion to the fugues in Bach's two other solo violin sonatas. Following which we had my two favored encores, "Blue Fiddle" by Paul Maravec and Max Richter's "Mercy." Hahn and Lisitsa ended their program with Brahms' early Sonatensatz (Sonata Movement) in C minor, a stormy, impassioned scherzo strongly presaging the Scherzo from Brahms' later, better known Piano Quintet in F Minor.

Throughout this recital, we were exposed to a complete potpourri of expressive modes and moods wrought as well as I could have imagined them by anybody. The encores offered as complete a survey of the best of what is being done in short contemporary composition as was possible with only 12 examples.

I've already waxed ecstatic about Hahn's playing in her ISO appearances; she proved to be the same artist this time. More surprising was Lisitsa's high caliber as a pianist and accompanist: Her phrase shaping and blending with Hahn, as well as her nuanced keyboard control, showed complete compatibility with her partner - as impressive violin-piano duo work as I've heard. Lisitsa, by herself, is a dazzling virtuoso, appearing with orchestras and giving solo recitals throughout the world. (She also has a strong YouTube presence.)

Hilary and Val - please return here as soon as possible - either together or separately.

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Tom Aldridge

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