At 17, Hilary Hahn astonished the music world with the pure, refined artistry of her debut all-Bach recording. Now, 16 years later, she is doing something even more astonishing: somehow, Hahn is becoming a more interesting musician every year.
That she continues to inspire young fans was evident Thursday evening in Benaroya Hall, where the packed house was unusually full of youthful listeners. They all came to hear Hahn in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, with the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Chinese-born conductor Xian Zhang (based in Europe, Zhang turns 40 this year).
Perhaps one key to Hahn’s success is the fact that her technique is so immaculate, so assured, that she doesn’t have to waste any time thinking about perfecting it — and can concentrate solely on artistry and interpretation. Even in a killer concerto like the Sibelius, the music just flows out of her violin, with octave passages precisely in tune, and scalar passages as symmetrical and even as a string of pearls.
From the tremendous verve of the opening cadenza to the final flourish, Hahn produced beautifully crafted phrases whose speed and accuracy were downright mind-boggling. Her tone, especially in the luscious lower register, is warmer and more focused than ever. On the podium, Zhang not only kept up with the soloist (no easy feat) but also supported her admirably.
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The audience rose for an ovation at the end, applauding at such length that Hahn returned to the stage for an encore: the Gigue from Bach’s solo Partita No. 3 in E Major. This was one of the works on Hahn’s debut recording — even stronger, subtler and more elemental now, in midcareer.
Zhang opened the program with a rousing account of Sibelius’ tuneful “Karelia” Overture, launching the music forward with vigorous, choppy gestures. Following the concerto, the second half was an interesting pairing: the U.S. premiere of Pascal Zavaro’s “La Bataille de San Romano,” and Beethoven’s ever-popular Symphony No. 7. Zavaro was in the audience for the performance of his piece (co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and the Orchestre National de France, and inspired by a triptych by painter Paolo Uccello), and got a warm audience response for the colorful, propulsive new work.
Tiny but authoritative, Zhang led the Beethoven Seventh with considerable energy and a kinetic technique — lots of stirring, pointed gestures that inspired a big, warm sound (particularly in the second movement) and a fair degree of precision, except for some out-of-tune moments. Despite the absence of five principal players (concertmaster, second violin, cello, horn, and oboe), the orchestra rose to this complex and challenging program with considerable alacrity.
And there’s more: in addition to Saturday’s repeat performance, Zhang and the Symphony will reprise the overture and the Beethoven symphony at 7 p.m. Friday in the “Untuxed” series, and later that night the “(untitled)” series will offer five new chamber works, three of them by Seattle Symphony players.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at email@example.com.