A review of Hilary Hahn’s recital at Benaroya Hall on Oct. 30.

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Ever since she burst into the concert world as a preternaturally gifted teenager, violinist Hilary Hahn has built a career by blazing her own trail. She recorded a best-selling album of cerebral solo Bach as a high-schooler, and Hahn has more recently revitalized the contemporary violin repertoire by commissioning inventive encore pieces from 27 international composers.

A capacity Benaroya Hall audience heard both Bach and a 21st-century encore in a remarkable Sunday recital with the pianist Robert Levin. The program was clearly designed as a partnership: Levin had a solo turn as well, in a lineup that included works of Bach, Mozart, and Schubert as well as two contemporary works and two encores.

At almost 37, Hahn has amassed a long list of recordings and honors; she is now married and a mother, and in Sunday’s performance she wore wire-rimmed glasses to read scores onstage. What hasn’t changed is the purity of her intonation, the intensity and beauty of her tone, the ease of her clean technique, and the probing intelligence of her interpretations.


Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn returns to Seattle Feb. 9-12, 2017, to perform the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot. (Information at seattlesymphony.org.)

On Sunday, the opening Bach Sonata No. 6 in G Major (BWV 1019) was not an auspicious start for the duo. Levin’s playing was heavy-handed and shapeless, chugging mechanically along and sometimes overbalancing Hahn’s more restrained, often vibratoless violin lines. Matters improved in the Mozart Sonata in E-Flat Major (K.481), which got a more graceful and better balanced performance distinguished by Hahn’s flexible and beautifully shaped phrasing.

The program got even more interesting after intermission, when each player took a solo turn. Levin’s was the uneasy, sometimes eerie “Träume” (“Dreams”) by Romanian composer Hans Peter Türk, composed in tribute to Türk’s late wife. Levin subtly evoked the “dreams” in agitated, otherworldly nuances.

Hahn played the Solo Partita No. 4 (part of a commissioned set of six) by Antón García Abril, in an exquisitely nuanced performance. The piece is so full of double stops that it sounds as if two violins are playing simultaneously – or, as Hahn once noted, “like conversations with yourself.”

An ebullient reading of the Schubert Rondo in B Minor (D.895) found Hahn and Levin closing the program in complete accord. They responded to an enthusiastic ovation with two encores: Max Richter’s stately and lovely “Mercy” (from Hahn’s “In 27 Pieces” album of encores, and similar to a Satie “Gymnopédie”), and Lili Boulanger’s slight but charming “Cortège.”