Musical Obsession #2: Hilary Hahn and Bach Violin Concerto

A slightly different tack today and coming back to a theme I started earlier in the year….

The subject of my second major musical obsession of the year is the US violinist Hilary Hahn and her interpretation of JS Bach’s Violin Concert in A Minor BWV 1041 (from her album Hilary Hahn Bach Concertos with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Kahane on Deutsche Gramaphon). Yes, I know she is not a guitarist, or guitar-related per se, but, as musicians, I think it’s important to keep our musical ears and minds open.

At the moment I am particularly infatuated with the A Minor Violin Concerto. I think this may be the case as it reminds of a Vivaldi concerto – who, incidentally, I love and of composers of the Baroque era (perhaps rather controversially for some), prefer to Bach … Of course, it is said that Bach was somewhat influenced by the Red Priest…. Anyway, I digress….

So yes, this Bach Violin Concerto in A Minor.
I find myself hitting the repeat button frequently for the first movement (Allegro Moderato). I just love the violin solo coming in around 28 seconds and then again at around the 50 second mark. Light and soaring initially, a rich and fruity tone; masterfully and expressively played by Hahn.

I also love the interplay of the repeated phrases of the violin and orchestra around the 2 minute mark in the recording and then again the 2 minute 15 second mark. This is followed by a fantastic descending bass line at around 2 minutes 28 seconds, with deeply rich and resonating bouncing notes in the bass building up the tension. Ooh love it!

The second movement (Andante) is rather more sedate and refined with lush and gently pulsing support from the orchestra, allowing the solo violin to dance lightly above it.

The third movement (Allegro assai) is a sprightly and spirited movement. The solo violin takes off from around the 30 second mark, Hahn playing with a such a full tone you just want to bite it! No? Ok, just me then… Hahn also plays with a sensitivity where it’s due here. I think it could be easy to “over egg” the solo in this movement (thinking from my own perspective if I were playing it – I’d get rather excited!), but Hahn gives it just the right amount of gas in the right places – fantastically phrased scale flourishes and some bloody brilliant double stopped notes around the 2 minute 20 second mark, into a great climax. Goosebump stuff.

Have a look and listen for yourselves.

Here’s a promo video of the album recording:

And a pretty breathtaking live performance:

From the same album as the Violin Concerto in A Minor, I’m also rather taken with the Concerto for Violin and Oboe BMW 1060R, although my iTunes copy of the recording has this listed as the Concerto for 2 Harpsichords, Strings and Continuo, which you can hear it definitely isn’t.

There is a fantastic melodic to-ing and fro-ing between the oboe and strings in the first movement (Allegro), and an awesome answer and call of the pacier third movement (Allegro), which is played at a slightly faster tempo than the first movement.

Nigel Kennedy also plays an awesome version of this concerto too. I can’t resist, here it is:

My falling in love with these particular pieces and Hahn’s recording stems, I think, from a primary source – having a tragically obsessional love of Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra’s Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (if you’re one of the few that has never heard this recording I implore you to listen to it!). On listening to the album for the gazillionth time I thought:

(1) There have to be other artists who communicate perhaps not in the same way, but on the same level as Kennedy that would also resonate with me

(2) There have to be other violin and string based baroque music that would also resonate with me and that I should enlighten myself with

(3) There has to be some Bach music that I can start to find a real musical-type connection with. 

I will confess that oftentimes Bach interpretations on various instruments have left me cold, finding it overly cerebral and not really “speaking” to me as such.

I think I’ve found through listening to and really connecting with this Hilary Hahn Bach recording (in addition to some other sources that will be a blog topics for later) it has really helped me to start to “crack” what ol’ JS had to say. Now I’m excited for the voyage of enlightened discovery laying ahead of me in terms of listening to, playing with and really getting to know the Bach repertoire on the guitar.


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