For violinist Hilary Hahn, the Friday concert at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater was a homecoming in more ways than one. This is the only leg of the Baltimore native's international tour of the region. And for this curious and sought-after musician, it was also a return to the foundation and top of the violin repertoire, the solo works of Bach – music that she recorded for her first teenage album in 1997 and that she revisits now. as an artist in its own right.
Hahn's recital, featuring Bach's first sonata and the first and second partitas, was an exhibition of state-of-the-art violin performances. She combined the best qualities of old school (seamless legato phrasing, muscular tone and majestic sense of lines) with more modern vocal expression ideas, but without the breathtaking manners that can plague period performance. . With its mastery of large scale architecture and its subtle nuances, Hahn has turned into a cathedral of sound: spacious and dazzlingly beautiful.
Compared to the very tight performances of his recent studio album of these works, the Friday recital, presented by Washington Performing Arts, seemed to surprise Hahn in a more ruminant mood. In the slow-moving movements of the B minor sonata and the B minor partita, Hahn's phrasing felt more relaxed and elastic, with a calmer introspective quality.
However, there is no need to take into account the glittering fast movements, whose formidable chords and evil descents have appeared as technically safe in concert as on disc. The meticulous readings of Hahn were as much acts of illumination as of interpretation, revealing the structure of these dense works with astonishing clarity.
Hahn's crossing of the famous Chaconne, which concludes the partita in D minor, showed all the qualities that propelled her to fame: the rich sonority, the intense concentration and the instinctive mastery of the drama. Hahn maintained an epic sense of the line through cycles of harmonic tension and looseness, driving music to its ecstatic climax with absolute inevitability and retreating inward with painful whispers.
In the aftermath of the tragic wrecks of Chaconne, Hahn left the public a gift of departure: the Andante of the sonata in minor, of Bach, a serene meditation close to a memorable concert.