In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores [TrackList follows] – Hilary Hahn, violin/ Cory Smythe, p. – DGG (2 CDs)

by | May 5, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores – Hilary Hahn, violin/ Cory Smythe, piano – DGG B0019103-02 (2 CDs) 58:52, 51:26 (11/11/13) ****:

Hilary Hahn is a very disciplined and thoughtful person. Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1979, she began violin studies at age four at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute and was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at age ten.  Having completed requirements for her university graduation at 16, she remained there to take elective courses and graduated at 20 with a Bachelor of Music degree.

She began recording at 16.  Examining her discography, one finds that she has produced one recording per year quite regularly since then:  she is now 35.  This collection of encores is her latest project and it reflects many years of thought and planning.

She has maintained a full touring schedule of both solo and orchestral performances. In both these situations she needs encore pieces, and is constantly on the lookout for new ones. This collection is the crowning achievement of a multi-year project to commission the best contemporary encores for violin with piano accompaniment.

She began by lining up sponsors to cover the cost.  Then she asked 26 composers to each write her a piece for violin and piano of less than five minutes duration. Every one she asked delivered, and the creative variety was astounding.

Hahn wanted to reach out even further and so she created a contest.  More than four hundred composers responded! First prize was the chance to occupy the 27th spot on this list of encores. The winner was Jeff Myers, a free-lance composer from New York.

The other 26 composers represented cover an enormous range of backgrounds and styles, but a fairly narrow range of ages – with birth dates  from 1928 (Einojuhani Rautavaara) to 1981 (Nico Muhly). Perhaps the best known of the composers is James Newton Howard (eight Academy Award nominations for film scores), but other interesting people include Michiru Oshima (leading composer for video games), Jennifer Higdon (Pulitzer and Grammy winner), and Kala Ramnath (a seventh-generation Indian classical violinist).

Hilary Hahn plays superbly, and her tone and sweetness in soft passages is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Her piano partner here is Cory Smythe, an American schooled at Indiana and USC. He has toured Europe, Japan and America with Ms. Hahn, and the works recorded here have been perfected during those concerts. Mr. Smythe is a solid and reliable accompanist, and he stands out in the louder passages, balancing perfectly with the violin.

The lead article in the accompanying booklet is by Hilary Hahn, explaining the journey from conception to final production of this pair of discs. It is well written as is the second article, a brief treatise on the history of  encore pieces. It is by Robert Kirzinger who writes program notes for the Boston Symphony and who also composes.

There were only two other things I’d like to have seen in the booklet. First is anything about the composers beyond their names and birth years. My Internet searching reveals them to be a fascinating group of people. Second is the winner of the contest. Again, I had to go online, to Hahn’s website, to find which was the winning piece and who wrote it.

Hilary Hahn co-produced the recording, done in May 2012 and February 2013, at the Teldex Studio in Berlin.  The DGG sound recording and balance are excellent. Hahn’s co-producer Andreas Meyer is responsible for engineering and post-production.

I close with two thoughts about encores, one each from the writers in the booklet:

“(I dedicate the album) to the audiences over the centuries who clapped and shouted like beasts until they got the encores they wanted.”
—H. Hahn

“(Encores are) like a musical goodnight kiss.”    —R. Kirzinger


Disc 1:

1. Franghiz Ali-Zadeh (1947 – ) Impulse 6:01

2. Somei Satoh Bifu 4:58

3. Du Yun When A Tiger Meets A Rosa Rugosa 5:30

4. David Lang (1957 – ) light moving 2:55

5. Bun-Ching Lam Solitude d’automn 4:12

6. Paul Moravec Blue Fiddle 4:53

7. Antón García Abril Third Sigh 3:23

8. Avner Dorman Memory Games 5:01

9. David Del Tredici (1937 – ) Farewell 5:01

10. Mason Bates Ford’s Farm 3:19

11. Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928 – ) Whispering 2:48

12. Gillian Whitehead Torua 4:13

13. Richard Barrett (1959 – ) shade 4:21

14. Jennifer Higdon (1962 – ) Echo Dash 2:17

Disc 2:

1. Christos Hatzis (1953 – ) Coming To 3:16

2. Jeff Myers The Angry Birds of Kauai 4:01

3. Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960 – ) Hilary’s Hoedown 2:01

4. Valentin Silvestrov Two Pieces 4:58

5. Kala Ramnath Aalap And Tarana 3:16

6. Lera Auerbach (1973 – ) Speak, Memory 3:17

7. Tina Davidson Blue Curve of the Earth 4:53

8. Elliott Sharp Storm Of The Eye 4:55

9. Michiru Ohshima Memories 3:56

10. James Newton Howard (1951 – ) 133 At Least. 2:10

11. Nico Muhly Two Voices 4:58

12. Søren Nils Eichberg Levitation 4:13

13. Max Richter (1966 – ) Mercy 5:32

—Paul Kennedy

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