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Originally published April 30, 2014 at 8:41 AM | Page modified April 30, 2014 at 6:54 PM

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Hilary Hahn’s recital: variety, precision, passion

Hilary Hahn, accompanied by pianist Cory Smythe, performed as part of the UW World Series on Tuesday night, mixing Telemann and Mozart with contemporary works.

Special to The Seattle Times


Seattle audiences normally hear violinist Hilary Hahn in Benaroya Hall, but Tuesday evening, the venue was Meany Theater, less than half the size of Benaroya. It was an “up close and personal” recital in the UW World Series, particularly since Hahn took to the microphone to introduce the pieces to the audience.

Regardless of what she plays, Hahn is an utterly convincing interpreter who makes the music sound natural and unforced — even easy, when it’s decidedly not easy at all. Her approach, direct and unfussy, is underlain with a phenomenally steady bow arm and fingerwork so accurate that there’s almost never a pitch even slightly off the center of the note.

There was plenty of variety in her Meany recital, whose order she announced from the stage because Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe have found that some of the pieces illuminate each other best when played in proximity with each other.

It’s not clear to this listener, however, how the skittery harmonics and wavering pitches of the opening Richard Barrett “shade” brought out the sober, exquisitely musical reading of the unaccompanied Telemann Fantasia No. 6 in E Minor, to which Hahn brought the purity and intensity with which she plays solo Bach.

Another of the 27 brief encores Hahn famously commissioned and recorded, Antón García Abril’s “Third Sigh,” took an entirely different Spanish-accented turn, wistful and tango-like and a bit jazzy. A mighty shifting of musical gears moved the program back to Mozart, whose Sonata in A Major (K. 305) found the soloist and pianist in near-perfect accord with lots of witty byplay in the second movement.

Throughout the evening, in fact, Smythe proved the best keyboard partner a violinist (or an audience) could wish for: technically brilliant, artful without excess, supportive without overwhelming, and apparently possessed of that most valued of accompanist attributes — a sixth sense about exactly when and how the soloist is going to land on any given note.

Especially in the spiky Schoenberg Phantasy (Op. 47) and the triumphant Schubert Fantasia in C Minor that ended the program, Smythe’s incredibly nimble partnership was invaluable.

Enthusiastic applause for the Schubert brought the duo back for a single lovely encore, the elegiac, passacaglia-like “Mercy” by Max Richter (another of the 27 commissioned encores).

The near-capacity audience included lots of UW students, which is a good thing — except when the person seated next to me periodically illuminated his cellphone during the recital to check on his vital messages, with the effect of turning on a flashlight in a darkened auditorium. Another student in the vicinity was doing a little illegal filming of brief portions of the performance.

Cellphones are a great boon to modern society, but unless you’re a physician on call, they have no legitimate place in the concert hall.

Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at

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