Hilary Hahn & Valentina Lisitsa

Sonata in A for Violin and Piano
Sonata in B flat for Piano and Violin, K378
Sonata No.5 in G for Solo Violin, Op.27/5
Violin Sonata No.3
Sonata No.2 in A for Violin and Piano, Op.100

Hilary Hahn (violin) & Valentina Lisitsa (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 13 February, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Hilary Hahn. Photograph: Kasskara/DGThis recital by Hilary Hahn consisted of five sonatas that between them evinced a intriguing network of interconnections, as well as comprising a diverse and yet satisfying programme.

The Classical, Romantic and Modern eras were all represented, but the perspectives therein were by no means clear-cut. Thus the interplay between piano and violin in Mozart’s B flat Sonata (1781) has a poise and equability that might almost be a throwback to Baroque constraints were it not for the humour – only occasionally facetious – with which the composer has these instruments effectively competing for possession of its themes. A aspect to the fore in this spirited performance by Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa, as responsive to the music’s gentle contrasts as to its seamless continuity.

Which also goes for Brahms’s Second Violin Sonata (1886), the most benign of his three such works in its generous if slightly too complacent lyricism. Only in the vivid intermezzo/scherzo alternations of its central movement does a greater animation assert itself, and this also seemed to galvanise the performers in a reading whose elegance was undoubted but whose eloquence seemed overly subdued.

Valentina Lisitsa. Photograph: Iran Issa-KhanAs with that by Brahms, César Franck’s Violin Sonata (1886) also has recourse to Classical notions of form from a demonstrably Romantic perspective: here, though, thematic integration is more to do with the cyclical continuity that was the composer’s unlikely but lasting legacy: a preludial first movement unfolding ideas evolved through the heightened contrasts of its successor, the almost improvisatory freedom of the ‘Recitativo-fantasia’ that is the third movement, and the coursing emotion of a finale that further develops its material while bringing the overall formal process to a decisive conclusion.

Hahn and Lisitsa were at one in projecting the work’s emotional force and formal cohesion, while Hahn was no less impressive in a comparatively rare outing for Eugène Ysaÿe’s Solo Violin Sonata No.5 (1924) – in its exploratory demeanour and unbridled virtuosity typical of a performer whose music (as varied in scope as it is neglected in performance) is yet driven by creative necessity. The tranquil ‘L’aurore’ was delectably rendered, while ‘Danse rustique’ calls for an interpretative and technical command – notably in a hair-raising passage of cascading pizzicatos – that were handsomely met here.

At first glance, Charles Ives’s Third Violin Sonata (1914) might be thought to lie outside the context of this programme. Yet without sacrificing any of his (proto-)Modernist vision, Ives here created a piece whose emotional expansiveness and formal rigour draw directly on Romantic and Classical precedent. The composer’s commentary is useful as far as it goes, but pointedly neglects to mention that all three movements are informed by a sonata-form dynamism whose cumulative momentum is belied by the relative placidity of the work as a whole – a factor that probably led Ives to downplay the sonata’s significance within his output, which in turn has led to its neglect by later generations.

If so, then it could have found no finer advocate than Hahn – who invested the brief central scherzo with a drive that readily galvanised its rhythmic intricacy, and brought a slow-burning intensity to its outer movements (particularly the ‘verse and refrain’ contrasts of the first) to banished any thoughtof the work (as Ives later dismissed it) as a “sonata for old ladies”. With Lisitsa offering total rapport, it proved the highlight of a recital that confirmed Hilary Hahn as second to none among violinists of her generation. A brief if expressive Cantabile by Paganini brought the evening to a serene conclusion.

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