March 7, 2013
The violin is capable of so many moods and personalities it almost seems human in and of itself. In the hands of a great soloist who can tame its unpredictable nature, it leaps to life. Here is a short tribute to only a few of the great violinists who have played in the Bay Area in the last month, or who will play here shortly. If the list were complete, it would be twice as long.
1 and 2. Hilary Hahn, Toccata (Stravinsky); Bouree, from Partita No. 3 (J.S. Bach)
People spend a lot of time praising Hilary Hahn’s phenomenal technical accuracy, but that’s a lot of what’s wanted in a Stravinsky piece like this one, with spiky rhythms, and a zesty, off-kilter melody. The Bouree is a French dance from the Baroque. Hahn puts a lot of lift and air into it.
3 and 4. Sarah Chang, Zapateado (Pablo de Sarasate); Meditation, from Thais (Jules Massenet)
Sarah Chang came up famously as a prodigy, making her first major recordings when she was 12 years old. Here’s the mature Chang playing a Spanish dance that virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate wrote for himself. The Meditation, one of the most famous short pieces in the violin repertoire, is a favorite of Chang, who really projects emotion into a beautiful melody like this one.
5 and 6. Anne-Sophie Mutter, Humoresque No. 1 (Sibelius); Allegro giocoso (third movement) Violin Concerto in D (Brahms)
Anne-Sophie Mutter, like Chang, was a prodigy, making her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at 13. And like Hahn, she has been a champion of contemporary music. I first heard her playing the Brahms concerto, and it remains a touchstone interpretation for me. A humoresque is a character piece with a sense of free fantasy.
7. Rachel Podger, Fantasia No. 4 in D (G.F. Telemann)
Rachel Podger, who appears with the Philharmonia Baroque this month, is a terrific violinist, if less famous than the other names here. She plays in the “historically-informed performance” style; here she delivers an imaginative piece by a contemporary and friend of Bach.
8 and 9. Midori, Caprice No. 24 (Niccolo Paganini); Quick Dance, from Romanian Folk Dances (Bela Bartok)
Midori, another prodigy, has had a fascinating career in which performing shares time with teaching and philanthropy. (She founded her first philanthropic foundation when she was 21.) She’s not fond of the spotlight, but her musicianship is not in question. Paganini’s Caprices are among the most famous torture test for violinists, and Midori was playing them when she was six. The finale of Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances is a brief, wonderful encore piece.
Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.