Hilary Hahn never disappoints. I went out into the cold wet weather last night to hear her at Herbst Theater, along with pianist Valentina Lisitsa. After a week of rain and gloom – and I have to say, I generally enjoy such weather, and we don’t get all that much of it around here, but I also like contrasts – the two young women came out on stage looking fresh and springlike, both in long strapless gowns; Lisitsa’s a solid shade of pale green-gray and Hahn’s a rich yellow, covered with ornate and fanciful flowers in soft shades of jade, rose, and turquoise. They launched right into Kreisler’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli (in the style of Tartini), an elegant and virtuosic short introduction to the program. Strengthening the impression of sweetly glowing April in the middle of soggy February was the next piece, Beethoven’s Sonata in F Major for Violin and Piano, Opus 24, “Spring”. The second movement in particular was just one of those musical benedictions that seem like a visitation from another world, and a better one. The first half of the concert ended with Ives’s fairly brief Violin Sonata No. 4, “Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting.” The first part of the sonata was spikey and march-like in the Ives way, followed by a more flowing section and resolving in the solemn grace of the old hymn “Shall We Gather by the River.” Ives is an interesting Janus of a composer; his style is often aggressively and creatively dissonant and “modern” but his materials and subject matter look back nostalgically on a semi-rural America of camp meetings and small-town parades and upright Protestants singing solemn hymns in their upright churches, an America that was passing away in Ives’s own lifetime.
After a somewhat long intermission, Hahn came out alone and performed Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B minor for unaccompanied Violin. There was some applause after one particularly dazzling movement (I think it was the Double after the Corrente, but I wasn’t following movement-by-movement in the program so I’m just guessing), just as there had been some applause after the first movement of the Beethoven, which Hahn graciously and briefly acknowledged with a smile and a slight bow before moving on. Lisitsa rejoined her for a rarity, Antheil’s Violin Sonata No. 1, which is a wild and entertaining piece. The beginning sounds like honky-tonk Satie and moves into a solemn kind of keening (which the program notes suggest was inspired by Antheil’s travels to Tunisia and consequent exposure to Arabic music). There are all kinds of charmingly aggressive modernist displays throughout. Fantastic performance by both women; Hahn seems to be able to conjure any kind of sound out of her violin without apparent effort.
The audience’s enthusiastic ovations earned it three generous encores: one solo each for the two women and a final joint piece. Usually San Francisco Performances posts the encore titles but they haven’t done that yet for this concert, so I’m guessing here. First Hahn came out and performed a movement from one of Bach’s solo violin pieces. Then Lisitsa had the spotlight with a dreamy and evocative performance of Chopin. Finally the two joined for what I’m guessing was another piece by Kreisler. I’m getting increasingly lazy about leaving my house, so it was nice to have such a satisfying reminder of why it can be a good idea.
UPDATE: San Francisco Performances posted the encores; I guessed correctly:
BACH: Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006 (Ms. Hahn)
CHOPIN: Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 (Ms. Lisitsa)
KREISLER: Schön Rosmarin for violin and piano