The yin and yang of musical interpretation can be described as the oppositions of classical to romantic, exaggeration to sobriety, mere entertainment to nobility of purpose and pure virtuosity to musical meaning.
Certain performers have to exult in external display, demonstrating to audiences the unusual gifts they were born with. Others have to subjugate their external skills to what they conceive as the composition's core meaning, selflessly dedicating themselves to artistic ideals in the service of music. Very few musicians fall completely into one category. Generally, it is the flashy extroverts with sensational skills who are the biggest box-office attractions; it is the dedicated musicians who achieve the respect of their colleagues.
Once in a while a performer achieves the height of virtuosity and combines it with pure musicianship. In her performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major with the Baltimore Symphony and music director David Zinman Friday night, Hilary Hahn suggested she is such a rara avis.
In most performances one is aware of tempos, whether on the fast or slow side. Though I suspect Hahn's tempos may have been on the slow side -- for her performance created a feeling of relaxation and spiritual repose -- I was never aware of the passage of time. I was just sorry when the performance was over.
Hahn, 18, distinguished herself by her total lack of affectation, her purity of line and an apparent lack of concern with impressing the audience. If she received a magnificent accompaniment from Zinman and the orchestra, she proved herself a superb collaborator.
This is not to say that the violinist lacked either personality or virtuosity, only that the prevailing impression was of spiritual force and inner grace. Hahn's virtuosity is remarkable: Her intonation reached almost a Milstein-Heifetz level of infallibility; her bowings were expressive and evoked a beguiling variety of sound; her trills scintillated; and her conquest of the Joachim cadenzas was exceptionally brilliant. As an encore Hahn played the Sarabande from Bach's Partita in B minor with tonal finesse, a strong sense of line and impeccable intonation.
The program began with Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis." Zinman set out the piece with ardor and breadth and solicited from his players, particularly those in the second orchestra required by the Tallis Fantasia, ethereal and magically quiet playing.
The Vaughan Williams was followed by an even more impressive performance of Schubert's Symphony No. 3. Even though his tempos were excitingly paced, Zinman made every phrase breathe and he shaped the whole with affection and imagination. The playing of the musicians, especially the clarinet solos of Steven Barta, could not have been more beautiful.
Pub Date: 6/08/98