I love the magnificent music of Johann Sebastian Bach, from his magisterial organ works to the Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould), and the solo Cello Suites performed by János Starker, Yo-Yo Ma, and so many others. I’ve also listened to countless recordings of Bach’s solo violin compositions, but I must admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the violin, unless it’s part of jazz, world, or Cuban music. Give me Stéphane Grappelli and Joe Venuti, or the charanga of Alfredo de la Fé or newcomer Dayren Santamaria. And I can’t forget the fabulous Hungarian gypsy violin of Roby Lakatos. I read in Arthur Rubinstein’s autobiography that his parents told him to play the violin, because it was a nobler instrument than the piano. I’m sure glad he chose the latter.
Recently I listened again to Jascha Heifetz’s classic recording of Korngold’s Violin Concerto, remembering that giants like the late Joe Zawinul were smitten by it, especially the slow adagio. I found it overly sentimental, plus I didn’t like his tone one bit. So when I received Hilary Hahn’s new recording of Bach sonatas and partitas, I thought that it would be just another violin record of material I’ve already heard too much. But boy, was I wrong, very wrong. I am totally smitten by the new recording.
Hilary Hahn has played Bach every day since she took up the violin at the age of seven, and first recorded Bach’s solo violin works as a 17-year-old prodigy. On this album, coming 21 years later, she records other Bach solo violin works that weren’t on the debut album. Hahn says in the liner notes that “from the first day I learned the first notes of the Siciliana from Sonata No. 1 for my first full recital almost thirty years ago, this set of works has been a touchstone of my musical life.” She loves, lives, and breathes Bach. It shows. She plays with such authority, passion, and sense of wonder. It’s the notes, what’s between the notes, and the overall the beauty of her sound that captivate me. I have listened again and again to this new album to absorb all of its beauties.
Here is her new recording of the Sonata for Violin Solo #1 in G Minor:
Her amazing version of the first Partita:
Watch Hahn practice in the next video. She is relentless in extracting the beauty of Bach:
(Photos by Dana van Leeuwen Decca)