New York Philharmonic – Jakub Hrůša conducts Coleridge-Taylor and Bartók – Hilary Hahn plays Prokofiev

Ballade in A-minor, Op.33

Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19

Concerto for Orchestra

Hilary Hahn (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Jakub Hrůša

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 13 January, 2024
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Guest Jakub Hrůša led the New York Philharmonic through this mostly dazzling program with flair, opening with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade, a work with a complicated history. Commissioned in 1898 by the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester, the Black British composer’s piece met with success and then fell into oblivion until its recent revival as American and UK orchestras increasingly present works by minority composers. Hrůša elicited a swift-paced, energetic account, stressing bouncy rhythms and the tense dialogue between rhapsodic passages and rugged sections.

Next came something more exciting and familiar: Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, one of the last pieces he wrote in 1917, the year before he left Russia for a decade and a half. Hilary Hahn, the Philharmonic’s artist-in-residence, delivered an invigorating interpretation of this essentially lyrical work. Traversing its melodies with gorgeous tone, impressive technique, and an exceptionally wide dynamic range, her playing was warm, strong and characterful throughout. After a tenderly expressive delivery of the ethereal opening theme and a vibrant rendering of the more robust rhythms, the virtuosic central Scherzo was a total contrast – bitingly intense, strident, demonic – and the zephyr-like ending of the Finale, executed with extraordinary delicacy, capped off the performance, through all of which Hahn received exceptionally fine support. An ovation yielded a graceful encore, the ‘Loure’ from Bach’s Partita, BWV1006. 

The program concluded with Bartók’s cosmopolitan Concerto for Orchestra, the Philharmonic players responding to Hrůša’s dynamic and elegant conducting style with a vigorous, warmly expressive rendition. In composing it for the most accomplished American ensemble of his day – Serge Koussevitzky’s Boston Symphony Orchestra – the Hungarian master held nothing back. Hrůša secured brilliant playing, the angular string figurations, exposed woodwind parts, and spunky brass fugues were all dispatched with character and clarity. As the broodingly atmospheric opening unfolded, the cellos and woodwinds sounded sublime. The ‘Giuoco delle coppie’ was affable and brightly colored, the central ‘Elegia’touching, the Lehár-based quote from Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony in the ‘Intermezzo Interrotto appropriately zany and raucous, and the Finale exhilarating, with the brass contributinga triumphant display near the end.

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