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Hilary Hahn/Neville Marriner/Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
BRAHMS and STRAVINSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTOS
(SONY CLASSICAL)

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Glenn Gould once played the Brahms D-minor Piano Concerto at an absurdly slow tempo, his intention being to eliminate the antagonistic relationship between orchestra and soloist thatís taken to be a hallmark of the Romantic concerto. It didnít really work, but in this recording, Hilary Hahn has realized something close to Gouldís notion with the Brahms Violin Concerto. Hahn and Marriner turn in an ear-opening performance that invites you to reconsider this workís profile. Instead of the imposing drama you expect, this performance gives prominence to the interaction between the two camps. Fleet tempos, a chamber-sized orchestra, and an emphasis on dialogue yield an interpretation that Gould might well have labeled "Baroquish."

Hahnís playing shows that sheís no longer a prodigy but a mature violinist with a gorgeous, lyrical tone. Marriner not only gets great playing out of the ASMF winds ó a bobble in the Adagioís famous oboe melody notwithstanding ó but also lightens up the textures and allows Brahmsís imitative writing and imaginative scoring to shine through. Here and there I wished for more weight and heavier accents from the orchestra, but not often enough to dull the pleasure of this rethink.

Not even minor quibbles attach to the Stravinsky performance. One of the quirkier products of his neo-classical phase, the Violin Concerto sounds like an unholy marriage between Bach and drunken polka music. Although not written in the virtuoso style, it makes formidable demands on the soloist, and these Hahn dispatches not only with ease but with great humor. Marriner matches her step for step, showing off the wild colors and off-kilter rhythms of Stravinskyís score. The composerís own recording with Isaac Stern sounds leaden and brittle by comparison.

BY DAVID WEININGER

Issue Date: March 7 - 14, 2002
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