The pairing of Francis Poulenc and Reynaldo Hahn on this album may seem contrived merely because of biographical parallels between the two men, for their musical approaches and styles are quite different, if not at odds. Poulenc's neo-Classical, self-conscious parodies in the Sinfonietta and the dry, sarcastic wit of the Aubade are a world away from Hahn's pretty, even precious, Romanticism, which is unabashedly on display in La bal de Béatrice d'Este. However, the discerning listener may find in Poulenc streaks of Hahn's pensiveness and languor, which his comic antics never completely conceal; there is in Hahn a buoyant, diatonic tunefulness that is readily found in Poulenc. (Interestingly, some of Poulenc's adaptations of Renaissance music bear a remarkable similarity to Hahn's antique pastiches in this ballet.) Furthermore, their fondness for unusual chamber combinations is striking, and the transition from the Aubade to La bal de Béatrice d'Este is not at all jarring because they both share the charm and ambience of the salon orchestra.
Interesting, eclectic set of five originals (all but one written by Hahn), from a date including Jack DeJohnette on drums. Some of the cuts swing pretty well in a bop-Django Reinhardt sort of fusion, with Michael White on violin. "Ragahantar" and "Ara-Be-In," by contrast, are fusions of jazz with middle-eastern music and a bit of a psychedelic rock drive, not unlike the kinds of things that a rock group of the period, Kaleidoscope, would occasionally try on their albums. Previously available as an LP on its original Changes release and an Arhoolie reissue, it was reissued on CD in 1998, but at just half an hour it's pretty skimpy on running time.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
Hilary Hahn burst onto the classical scene in 1997 with her debut album ‘Hilary Hahn plays Bach’. Hilary has since enjoyed an incredibly successful international career and is considered one of the world’s finest violinists, winning 3 Grammy awards amongst other honours. Hilary is a strong advocate for classical music, leading projects like the specially commissioned ‘In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores’ collection of new compositions and her inspiring #100daysofpractice campaign on Instagram.