"ISO Classical Series Program No. 13

Hilbert Circle Theatre

March 1-3

Wow! I’m seldom given to spilling orgasmic raves in my reviews. I have to experience something very special — a reawakening, a revelation, an epiphany. Twenty-seven-year-old violinist Hilary Hahn gave me all that last weekend in her second appearance with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. This time it was the Sibelius Violin Concerto under guest conductor Larry Rachleff. His three-work program saved her till last — and so will I.

Rachleff (a Connecticut native and music director of several orchestras around the country) began with a pint-sized work (less than six minutes) for a very large orchestra, Remembering Gatsby — Foxtrot for Orchestra, by veteran American composer John Harbison (b. 1938). The piece served as a precursor to his 1999 opera, The Great Gatsby, after the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Large, sustained chords open the work. Knowing it was short, I waited expectantly for that fox-trot rhythm — and here it came, almost right on schedule. Hearing such large forces doing a fox trot seemed a bit off-putting, but before I could get into it, the piece ended.

Rachleff’s next offering is an orchestral tour-de-force, and quite easy to get into: Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 — lasting half an hour. Effectively the composer’s final opus, completed in 1940, three years before his death, it is the most dazzlingly orchestrated of Rachmaninoff’s large-scale works.

Except for excessive speed in the outer sections of the first movement, which caused a bit of ensemble raggedness, Rachleff led an inspired performance of the three “dances.” He shaped the lyric middle section of the opening movement to perfection, as well as the composer’s quote at its end, by the strings, from his First Symphony. The subsequent waltz movement ebbed and flowed with an almost effortless sequencing, and the Finale ended in a blaze of precise pyrotechnics. I think Rachmaninoff would have been pleased.

A Virginia native raised in Baltimore, Hilary Hahn first appeared here in September 2003, performing the Elgar Violin Concerto. I then compared her to Sergey Khachatryan, the most sensational laureate to come from the Indianapolis International Violin Competition in its 26-year history. At this point, Hahn has surpassed her younger Armenian counterpart (Khachatryan is 22), as well as surpassing her own playing since the Elgar. To my ears, her bowing and vibrato approached the Platonic ideal of a violin tone: rich, rounded, never straying from pitch. In addition, we heard perfect interval intonation and virtuosic ease subsumed within her beautiful sound.

Hahn’s playing of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47, glued me onto every note, every phrase. The extremely difficult final movement came across as effortless; at least she made it seem so. The entire house stood applauding, both after the concerto and her single encore: Schubert’s famous song, “Erlking,” in a solo violin arrangement by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814-1865). Of all the touring fiddlers appearing in Indianapolis venues, Hahn is the current “best.”

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