In another original pairing violinist Hilary Hahn brings together the familiar, highly commercial and long-awaited recording of the famous Sibelius Violin Concerto with the rarely performed Violin Concerto by Arnold Schoenberg. Hahn brings out the romantic qualities of Schoenberg's Concerto--known as one of the most difficult pieces in the violin repertoire--showing why it makes an ideal coupling with the Sibelius--"Hahn didn't merely play the notes, she passionately engaged with them." (The Daily Telegraph on a live performance of the Schoenberg Violin Concerto). As both an acclaimed Sibelius interpreter and a known advocate of 20th-century music in concert halls worldwide, Esa-Pekka Salonen is the ideal musical partner in this project.
Few would argue that Schönberg's Violin Concerto makes for easy listening. Its angular expressions, weird, heavenly decoration and the long solos that seem designed to maim the violinist can be, simply, too much. Hilary Hahn, on this new CD, plays the work as if it were an outgrowth of Romanticism (which it is), rather than the start of a musical revolution (which it also was) and the result is lyrical, songlike, and, well, Romantic. Yes, the 12-tone thorniness is clear, but each melody makes sense not only within itself, but throughout the whole concerto. If the first movement puzzles, the Andante sounds practically like a Viennese Waltz and the finale is not only like a feat by a virtuoso, but a culmination. This is the most approachable performance of this work available. The Sibelius concerto gets a fine if unusual reading. Hahn plays it with a Nordic coolness; the first movement's long melodies have less passion than the listener will be accustomed to and even the finale, normally played with somewhat of a bellicose nature, comes off without much heat. But it certainly cannot be faulted as sheer gorgeous playing and neither can Esa-Pekka Salonen's accompaniments. -- Robert Levine