Significant and unforgettable: Hilary Hahn dazzles in all Bach recital at Wigmore Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom JS Bach: Hilary Hahn (Violin). Wigmore Hall, London, 4.3.2023. (CSa)

Hilary Hahn © OJ Slaughter

JS Bach – Sonata No.1 in G minor for solo violin BWV1001; Partita No.1 in B minor for solo  violin BWV1002; Partita No.2 in D minor for solo violin BVW1004

Clothes maketh not the performer, but occasionally they serve as a striking metaphor for the performance. That was certainly the case in an all-Bach solo violin recital at a packed Wigmore Hall earlier this month, when Hilary Hahn stepped onto the platform attired in a sparkling, sequined robe of diaphanous chiffon to give an equally dazzling account of Bach’s Sonata No.1 in. G minor, and Partitas No.1 in B minor and No.2 in D minor. The Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning Hahn has devoted much time to these works in the last six years, which she has played regularly since she was nine years old. I have described Hahn previously as an artist of perfect grace and poise; capable of producing an almost ethereal purity of tone and flawless phrasing. ‘One can’t fake in Bach’ Hahn once claimed, ‘and if one gets all of them to work, the music sings in a most wonderful way.’ And sing it did.

In a sublime account of Sonata No.1 in G, Hahn, swaying gently from side to side and her bowing arm moving with exceptional fluidity, boldly projected the broad sweeping power of the Adagio. Yet Hahn managed to bring out with extraordinary delicacy and precision the passages of arpeggiated ornamentation. The ensuing Fuga, a multi-faceted conversation between two voices on the same instrument, was played with great bravura, while the slow and lilting Siciliana became an irresistible invitation to dance. The Sonata ended with a highly charged Presto in which Hahn’s technical brilliance and emotional insights were on full display.

Hahn’s rendition of Partita No.1 in B minor took `Bach’s collection of tuneful courtly dances to a new level. The slow and reflective Allemande and Double were perfectly shaped, every phrase filled with light and shade, while the Courante and Double were played with astonishing lightness of touch. The Sarabande and associated Double, comprising soft surges of melody interspersed with seas of silence, and the irrepressible Tempo di Borea and Double, provided yet further insights into Hahn’s masterful technique.

Bach’s glorious Partita No.2 in D minor occupied the second half of the concert. It has been said that this work, and particularly the final movement, which was written in memory of Bach’s last wife, is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed. Diving deeply into a wellspring of human emotion which ranges from profound grief to intense joy, Hahn demonstrated her command of the work’s technical demands. She brought richness of tone and perfect articulation to the opening Allemande; meticulous balance and control to the Courante; a quality of serene introspection to the third movement Sarabande; and irrepressible exuberance to the Gigue. Of the final Chaconne, Brahms famously wrote to Clara Schumann: On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings … I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. If one doesn’t have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one’s mind.

If Brahms had had the privilege and pleasure to be present at this significant and unforgettable recital, he would surely have declared Hahn to be one the greatest, if not the greatest violinists around.

Chris Sallon

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