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Hilary Hahn - Eugéne Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, op. 27
(Deutsche Grammophon, 2023)
And then, all of a sudden, Belgian violinist Eugéne Ysaÿe is a thing again. This year has already seen performances of the Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, op. 27, by Daniel Matejca on Supraphon and Elena Denisova on TYXART. Storming in on Deutsche Grammophon is Hilary Hahn. With regards to Ysaÿe, Hahn has solid bona fides having been a pupil of Jascha Brodsky, who had been a student of Ysaÿe.
Ysaÿe (1858-1931) was a Belgian violinist and composer, declared by fellow violinist Nathan Milstein as the “Tsar of the Violin.” An important violin instructor, Ysaÿe dedicated each of his six violin sonatas to a violinist of the next generation. The first four were written for practicing virtuosos of the day – Joseph Szigeti (No. 1), Jacques Thibaud (No. 2), Georges Enescu (No. 3), and Fritz Kreisler (No. 4) – while the last two were dedicated to upstarts close to Ysaÿe: his pupil Matthieu Crickboom (No.5) and the tragic Manuel Quiroga (No. 6).
These are compositions that require, no, demand bravura performances. Clothed in this bravura mandate are technical dictates that require the performing violinist to scale from the dark mirth of the second sonata’s “Obsession. Prèlude” (teased open with the "Preludio" from Bach's Partita in E major) to the precise and manic genius of Sonata No. 3 “Ballade.” Hahn is more than equal to the challenge, having studied these pieces for most of her life. Six Sonatas is the first integrated recording by a single composer the violinist has recorded since the release of her 2019 recording of 6 Partitas by Anton Garcia Abril (Decca).
Hahn’s command is muscular and precise. Her performance of the Enescu sonata (No. 3) captures the concentrated Romantic character of all of the sonatas, radiating from double and triple stops of the first section into the lyric main section, seasoned with Paganini’s “Caprices” before the stunning virtuoso coda. This is a breathtaking performance that is not merely scintillating but devastatingly explosive.
A dozen lifetimes separate the coda of Sonata No. 3 from the Allemande of the Kreisler (No. 4) sonata, which Hahn plays with haunting beauty tempered with uncertain anxiety. These are not simply show pieces to Hahn -- just one more Sarasate “Zigeunerweisen” -- no. These pieces are as close as skin to the violinist and she sounds reluctant to share them with others.