Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, “The heart’s jewel”, polished by Hilary Hahn

Review by Simon Florin Holmsten, Gy1

Hilary Hahn in Springfield, Ohio, USA

The violin concerto by Felix Mendelssohn is one of the greatest and most beloved among all of violin concertos. It’s considered one of the four most prominent German concertos, alongside the concertos by Bruch, Brahms and Beethoven. Joseph Joachim (a great violinist of the 19th century and close friend to Johannes Brahms) once stated: “The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.”

Although the piece has been recorded hundreds of times by many great soloists, the recording by the virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn has something extra and is definitely not to be missed.

Hilary Hahn was born in 1979) and is one of our time’s most significant violinists. She took her first violin classes at the age of four, and was quickly declared a child prodigy. After her international debut in Germany 1995, her musical career has blossomed and since then, she has released no less than seventeen records.

Hahn’s recording of the Mendelssohn concerto has received huge amounts of positive feedback and has quickly become one of the most listened-to recordings of the piece – it has even been compared with Jascha Heifetz’s version. But what is the key to Hahn’s successful performance? How come her version is considered to be among the greatest? One main reason lies in Hahn’s great sense of natural and unsophisticated interpretation, and her ability to sustain a crystal clear and articulated tone throughout the whole piece, including all the technically demanding passages. Her ability to do this has also been described by publications like The New York Times. In an article in The New York Times about Hahn’s performance of the newly written violin concerto by Jennifer Higdon, reviewer Allan Kozinn states: “The concerto fits Ms. Hahn’s interpretive personality perfectly, drawing on both her pinpoint-precision in fast, intricate passages and the singing tone she typically produces in slow, long-lined music.”

Hahn’s overall interpretation is, as mentioned, very natural and unartificial. The phrasing somehow makes total sense to the listener. Without any disturbance due to sudden or exaggerated changes of dynamics, Hahn’s music goes directly to the heart. She plays the first movement at a high tempo with intensity and balanced lyrical phrasing, but without – unlike many other performances of this piece – going overboard with its romanticism. The second movement Andante is played at a standard tempo with great – yet balanced – emotion, never allowing the music to become too sentimental. In the third movement, Hahn plays with high spirit and brings forth the playfulness and spry feeling of the final movement, which apart from the previous movements, is written in a major key. Just like in the first movement, Hahn flies through the virtuosic passages of the third movement at a high tempo, and finishes it in roughly thirty seconds less than it’s normally played.

The Mendelssohn concerto has been recorded and preformed by all the historically prominent violinists like Maxim Vengerov, Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz and Ann-Sophie Mutter. Despite Hahn’s short musical carrier and her only being twenty-two years old when recording the concerto, it’s no doubt that her recording already belongs to the greatest.