Having begun learning the violin by the Suzuki Method just before her fourth birthday, at five Hilary Hahn went to Klara Berkovich in Baltimore, then to Jascha Brodsky (the last surviving pupil of Ysaÿe) at the Curtis Institute from ten to seventeen, and finally to Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir. Thus she was exposed at first or second hand to Franco-Belgian, German and more recent USA traditions, although of course it is difficult to determine how much such aspects of genealogy are outworked through modern pedagogy. Her university studies included literature, history, languages and music, making her perhaps more widely educated than many figures in this book.
Hahn has travelled extensively, playing more than 1300 concerts in over forty countries. Her discography reflects this prolific schedule. Hahn has released twelve feature albums on the Deutsche Grammophon and Sony labels in addition to three DVDs, an Oscar-nominated movie soundtrack and an award-winning recording for children.
On record she displays what might be described as present-day international style: a fusion of the old national schools from the early twentieth century with an awareness of more recent trends in performance, particularly of historical music. Accordingly, her Mozart K. 304 Sonata (2005), whilst not claiming to be a period performance, attempts to make aesthetic gestures suit the material. This kind of approach (toning down the more extreme mannerisms of modern playing, such as rich vibrato) can lead to under-powered performances, but this is not the case with Hahn, whose rendition is clean and bright. The same might be said of her Spohr Concerto No. 8 (2006), where she includes a few portamenti perhaps in reference to the composer’s liberal use of the device in his own playing. Her regular use of vibrato would not have pleased him, however! Similar remarks might be made about her 2002 Mendelssohn Concerto.
Hahn’s really outstanding work comes with a dramatic, accurate and committed 2010 performance of Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto, with a breathtaking first-movement cadenza. Her Barber Concerto (2000), one of the best discussed in this book, soon gets into its stride in the first movement, has some heart-rending playing in the intense slow movement, and surges to the end in an urgent finale. Hahn may be stylistically conventional but she has produced some of the most intense and enthralling work of the current younger generation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)