Hahn soars in
Bach interpretation

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Hilary Hahn, one of America's finest young violinists, opened the Honolulu Symphony's 2002-2003 season with a sparkling performance of two Bach concertos.

In the first, Bach's Concerto No. 2 in E Major, Hahn's music soared crystal-clear even in the first movement's mad-cap tempo. She played with an almost tangible joy that made hearts leap in response. The second movement, taken much more slowly than an adagio, became an aria, with Hahn's violin a compelling, wordless voice.

Hahn possessed a strong sense of line, with careful phrasing and thoughtful interpretation. She captured Bach's and the Baroque's passionate style, a style that is too often performed strait-laced.

Honolulu Symphony concertmaster Iggy Jang joined Hahn for the second concerto, Bach's Double Concerto in D Minor. Jang's and Hahn's violins complemented each other well. Jang's violin had a darker, richer timbre to Hahn's brighter and lighter one, rather like red wine to champagne. The combination made for interesting musical repartee.

Duets raise philosophical and interpretive questions that make listening to them endlessly fascinating. Unlike spoken languages, music can present two lines that can be heard and understood simultaneously.

But are both lines equally prominent? Does the composer balance the prominence of each part throughout the music? Perhaps most interestingly, do both performers know (and agree on) which line is most prominent in any given measure?

If one line is slow and lyrical and the other turbulent figuration, which is more important? The answer has everything to do with what the performers think the music means.

Jang and Hahn, stellar violinists in a stellar performance, left balancing the parts to Bach, the usual solution with a new partner.

For both concerti, maestro Samuel Wong used an orchestra of only eighteen musicians, about the same size Bach would have used. The small size allowed great agility without any loss of clarity, even in the densest of passages, and created the impression of intimacy in a large hall.

Beebe Freitas provided a tasteful harpsichord foundation throughout, and the orchestra interacted with meticulous dynamic control.

Wong devoted the second half of the concert to Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, which opens with the timpani and string basses announcing its unrelenting seriousness of purpose.

Brahms' First showcases both the orchestra as a unit and individual musicians with several famous solos. Of particular note Friday night were solos by oboist Scott Janusch, concertmaster Jang, French horn principal Ken Friedenberg, clarinetist Scott Anderson and timpanist Stuart Chafetz.

The large orchestra of about 70 musicians yielded some muddiness, always a problem in Brahms. But overall, Wong and the Honolulu Symphony delivered an exciting reading of a monumental work.

Postscript: Honolulu's audiences are known for their aloha, and Friday's performance was no exception. Having applauded between movements at several especially impressive performances last season, this year's audience perhaps felt compelled by graciousness to continue to applaud between each and every movement of every piece, lest the musicians feel censure, however mild.

Let me assure future audiences that the moment of repose between movements has its own beauty and that maintaining silence is equally respectful. Wild applause after a truly exceptional movement is as rare as it is welcome.

Ruth O. Bingham reviews classical music for the Star-Bulletin.

Hilary Hahn with the Honolulu Symphony
4 p.m. today at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
Tickets $15 to $57. Call 792-2000.

E-mail to City Desk


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