Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu prove they are an excellent duo team in their first recording together, featuring four of Mozart's sonatas for violin and piano. All dating from 1778 and later, Mozart treats the two instruments more equitably in these sonatas than in his earlier ones. Hahn and Zhu are technically flawless together. They match each other as closely as two different instruments can to achieve a true duet sound. Just as Hahn "digs" into her strings for extra friction in the opening of the Sonata in E minor, K. 304, Zhu aims for the same tone quality with her touch. The two use longer note values, enhanced by vibrato and pedal, to give the music a pretty sound. It's probably more than a Classical era purist would like, but this is by no means a Romantic interpretation. Their slow movements, particularly those of K. 376 and K. 526, have beautifully rounded, cantabile phrases. The Allegro con spirito of K. 301 has bright accents and intense diminuendos and crescendos, demonstrating that this music isn't all elegance and delicacy.
Hilary Hahn burst onto the classical scene in 1997 with her debut album ‘Hilary Hahn plays Bach’. Hilary has since enjoyed an incredibly successful international career and is considered one of the world’s finest violinists, winning 3 Grammy awards amongst other honours. Hilary is a strong advocate for classical music, leading projects like the specially commissioned ‘In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores’ collection of new compositions and her inspiring #100daysofpractice campaign on Instagram.