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Schoenberg, Sibelius: Violin Concertos

Schoenberg, Sibelius: Violin Concertos

3.6 3
by Hilary Hahn
"First impressions can be hard to shake," writes Hilary Hahn in her personal notes to this album, adding, "They can also, in music as in life, be misleading." Right on both counts. And more to the point, what better theme to tie together these two very different violin concertos? Hahn's interpretation of both works has deepened over the years, as she details in her


"First impressions can be hard to shake," writes Hilary Hahn in her personal notes to this album, adding, "They can also, in music as in life, be misleading." Right on both counts. And more to the point, what better theme to tie together these two very different violin concertos? Hahn's interpretation of both works has deepened over the years, as she details in her account, and her premise will strike a chord with many listeners, especially those who have struggled to come to terms with Schoenberg's challenging music. Schoenberg certainly did his part to deter audiences: After he completed the 1936 concerto, he claimed that he was delighted to contribute another "unplayable" work to the repertoire and wrote that it is "as difficult for the head as it is for the hands." Well, Hahn takes Schoenberg's bluster and calls him on it, finding deep veins of expression in the 12-tone score and carrying off its technical demands with panache. If Hahn can't change your mind about this music, no one can. The Sibelius concerto, on the other hand, is another story: Once heard, one can't help but love this lushly melodic late-Romantic work. Hahn allows how as a youth she was puzzled by its shifting moods, but she has clearly found her way, discovering (in her eloquent words) "an exquisite, nostalgic beauty, laced with hope, that undergirds the work's extraordinary power." It's not a sentimental performance, but neither is it without moments of gorgeous, heart-melting lyricism. Esa-Pekka Salonen coaxes rich sounds from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Sibelius, while the ensemble shines brightly in Schoenberg's coruscating orchestration.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Blair Sanderson
Hilary Hahn is always ready to take on new challenges as she has demonstrated in nearly every album of violin concertos in her recording career, from her precocious 1999 recording of Beethoven's masterpiece to her 2006 pairing of showpieces by Paganini and Spohr. On this 2008 Deutsche Grammophon release, she grapples with Arnold Schoenberg's knotty "Violin Concerto, Op. 36," and Jean Sibelius' demanding "Violin Concerto, Op. 47," two works that are among the most difficult of modern concertos and notable for their brooding moods and darkly dramatic music. Hahn deserves great credit for giving the Schoenberg concerto a much needed airing, and listeners new to the piece will find that its dense but expressive music is not as daunting as its reputation. Yet for all its penetrating intensity and compelling complexity, and in spite of Hahn's dedicated playing, this twelve-tone tour de force will never be as popular as Sibelius' tonal concerto, which has fared much better with audiences over the years. While Hahn makes a valiant intellectual effort with Schoenberg and patiently works her way through his dissonant counterpoint, it seems her heart is really with Sibelius, and the passionate way she embraces his melodies reveals an essentially Romantic and emotional approach to the music. While Hahn's playing seems quite vigorous and at times rough edged in the first work, her bowing here is much smoother and sweetly lyrical, so fans who admire her for her polish will find more to like in this performance. The accompaniment of Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is sympathetic and robust throughout, and the recordings of both concertos position Hahn centrally, so the sound of the violin is carefully balanced with the orchestra and fully present.
Gramophone - Rob Cowan
Magnificent.... Hahn has the full measure of the [Schoenberg].... The CD [is] mandatory listening both for lovers of the work who crave an appreciative performance and for doubters who still await conversion.
BBC Music Magazine - Stephen Johnson
[for the Schoenberg] The Schoenberg is simply astonishing.... Hahn and Esa-Pekka Salonen show how much beauty and brilliance there is in this work.
Time Magazine
[Grade: A-] Pairing the spiky Schoenberg and the brooding, soulful Sibelius, Hahn brings off both with dazzling pyrotechnics and fierce lyricism.
Time Out New York
The first mandatory classical disc of 2008.
Philadelphia Inquirer - David Patrick Stearns
Hahn and conductor Salonen conspire to deliver the best-ever recording of the Schoenberg Violin Concerto.... Salonen is a hugely penetrating interpreter, his rapport with the Swedish orchestra is better than ever.
San Francisco Chronicle - Joshua Kosman
An expressive performance, full of fervor and subtlety.
Dallas Morning News - Lawson Taitte
[Grade: A] Maybe this is the breakthrough that will clue audiences in on one of the very greatest concertos of the 20th century.
The Guardian - Andrew Clements
Hilary Hahn's wonderfully assured and generously expressive performance [of the Schoenberg concerto] shows what an approachable and important work it is.
Daily Telegraph - Matthew Rye
From the brooding opening [of the Schoenberg concerto], Hahn makes the music sing, dance and play while at the same time capturing its full emotional range.... In a crowded market of Sibelius recordings, this one stands out and is made even more of a best-buy with the stunning Schoenberg performance as its bedfellow.
Raleigh-Durham News & Observer - David Perkins
With her light, focused tone and warm phrasing, [Hahn] brings out the wit, playfulness and tunefulness of [Schoenberg's] 12-tone masterpiece.... The second movement [of the Sibelius concerto] is so beautifully sustained that it seems to be sung by a great mezzo-soprano.
The Times (U.K.)
Whether we are Schoenberg friends or detractors, all of us need this recording.... Hahn and Salonen's forthright ardour serves both concertos superbly. And the disc is very well recorded. No need to hesitate.

Product Details

Release Date:
Deutsche Grammophon

Related Subjects


  1. Violin Concerto, Op. 36  - Arnold Schoenberg  - Esa-Pekka Salonen  - Merle Kersten  - Hilary Hahn  - Christian Leins  -  Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra  - Mathias Bothor
  2. Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47  - Jean Sibelius  - Esa-Pekka Salonen  - Merle Kersten  - Hilary Hahn  - Christian Leins  -  Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra  - Mathias Bothor

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Schoenberg, Sibelius: Violin Concertos 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Hagen More than 1 year ago
Hahn's Schoenberg is nothing short of amazing. No previous performance of this work has ever revealed its beauty. I had always regarded it as an intellectually interesting but basically ugly piece of music. Part of her secret is her absolute technical mastery of the piece. Something else is present that must have resulted from very careful study and experience with the piece by Ms. Hahn. The Sibelius is excellent but no better than several other versions of this popular concerto. This is a must buy for anyone that has a Schoenberg collection or for someone that would like to get to know the composer's atonal music.
Richard-S More than 1 year ago
Everything about this recording is top-notch. As the review says, if Hahn can't bring you 'round to liking the Schoenberg work, no one can. This is a flawless release, with passionate and competent performances by both Hahn and the orchestra. The presentation of the Sibelius concerto is lush, warm, and emotive. But the Schoenberg concerto is the real triumph here. Hahn takes this angular, jagged work and smooths out its edges, making the piece fun, enjoyable and infinitely listenable. She and the orchestra capture the fire of Schoenberg's convictions and realize his vision probably more pefectly than has ever been done. This recording is proof positive that the 12-tone system didn't necessarily (or at least always) turn out music that is off-putting. Challenging, yes. But in the right hands, and both Hahn and Salonen are those, Schoenberg comes alive in new and exciting ways, and his music becomes accessible. The sound quality of the recording is rich, with a great deal of clarity and depth. I can't praise this CD enough. Its a revelation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago