Hilary shines in luminous Mozart with New World Symphony

By David Fleshler

HIlary Hahn performed Mozart's Violin Concero No. 5 with the New World Symphony Saturday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Michael Patrick O'Leary

HIlary Hahn performed Mozart’s Violin Concero No. 5 with the New World Symphony Saturday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Michael Patrick O’Leary

Despite their melodic freshness and originality, Mozart’s violin concertos are rarely heard in South Florida, losing out to their more showy and virtuosic counterparts from the 19th and 20th centuries.

But these works, composed in Mozart’s late teens, are more difficult to bring off than they appear, and Hilary Hahn turned out in any ways to be the ideal Mozart interpreter in her performance of the Violin Concerto No. 5 Saturday night with the New World Symphony. Hahn performed at the Arsht Center in Miami, with the orchestra led by James Gaffigan, a rising young American conductor who has spent most of his career in Europe.

Hahn’s style and technical equipment were ideal for this work from the late 18th century, when taste and elegance counted for so much. Her playing is extremely clean, with a gleaming ribbon of tone that laced through the first movement’s lively melodies and joyful strings of notes. There were no extremes here, no overt interpretive agenda, and she avoided both the stiff, dry tone that can come with quasi-authentic performances and the heavy, old-fashioned Romantic style that tries to make these concertos into something they’re not.

Despite the understated elegance of her style, there was no lack of commitment in her playing. In the second movement, for example, where the music swells into a minor-key passage of descending trills, her focused, honeyed tone and phrasing brought out the pathos of the passage in a natural, unaffected manner. In the last movement’s “Turkish” section—Mozart’s nod to his era’s vogue for things Ottoman—she dug in with the bow and played with an emphatic bite that fit the spiky, earthy melody.

As an encore, she played the Gigue from Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, here playing in a more percussive style and giving the work a tone of rustic vigor.

James Gaffigan

James Gaffigan

An obligatory tone often accompanies the overtures with which many concerts begin, seeming to serve as a sort of warmup for musicians and audience. But there was nothing rote about Saturday’s rousing performance of Verdi’s Overture to I vespri siciliani. Under Gaffigan’s spirited direction, the orchestra played the opera overture as if it were the main event, with rich, weighted tones in the brass, resonant solos by the cello section and a streak of dynamism throughout that lifted it above the typical concert opener.

The evening ended with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, the composer’s second most popular work in the genre, written late in World War II as Soviet forces were driving the Germans from their country.

Gaffigan took the first movement slower than usual, and this allowed him to draw immense tension and drama from the music, with attention to inner voices that made Prokofiev’s symphony seem both fresher and stranger than usual. The crescendo at the end had a volcanic quality, with rumblings of immense power, despite the initial low volume, allowing the climax to come with crushing force. The New World’s world-class performers came to the fore here, with all sections playing with resonance and power.

The second movement had an almost frantic quality, with brass particularly impressive. The third movement was as mysterious as ever, with Gaffigan and the New World players bringing out its otherworldly, light-dark tone. Winds were outstanding throughout in the work’s soaring but unsentimental melodies, playing with the clean 20th century sound, all coming through as players and conductor made the most of the composer’s transparent orchestration.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Hilary shines in luminous Mozart with New World Symphony”

  1. Posted Jan 13, 2014 at 11:13 am by Donald Elisburg

    A very classy performance. Ms.Hahn remains world class. The orchestra was equally fabulous.

Leave a Comment

Sun Jan 12, 2014
at 11:55 am
1 Comment