Violinist Augustin Hadelich deserves a higher profile

December 8, 2011

I don’t know if we’re in a “golden age” of violin-playing, but there are certainly a lot of good performers out there today; Hahn, Mutter, Bell, Tetzlaff, Shaham, Repin, and many others are plying their trade at a dazzlingly high level. Augustin Hadelich is not as well-known as these luminaries, but on the evidence offered at his recital Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater (for the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts), he should be.

Hadelich, in his late 20s, enjoys an active, worldwide career but has yet to play with many of the first-rank orchestras and has only four recordings of minor repertoire on small labels. His music-making deserves a higher profile; he is an artist of rarified ability on the instrument, whose playing melds the best traditions of the past with the quicksilver sensitivities of the present.

Joined Wednesday night by veteran pianist Rohan De Silva — no violinist could be in safer hands — Hadelich offered a relatively bland program of sonatas by Beethoven (No. 6), Brahms (No. 1), and Poulenc, with the Sarasate “Zigeunerweisen” thrown in. The solo sonata by Zimmermann, programmed but then dropped, might have offered audiences a chance to crack an extremely tough nut with the help of a first-tier artist. A pity.

The concert featured the third Stradivarius I’d heard in six days (after Midori and Caroline Goulding), and Hadelich was the first to fully understand and exploit what he had in his hands. Playing without a shoulder pad and with pinpoint intonation, he produces a fresh, ringing sound that changes color as the music demands. Although each string had a different “voice,” Hadelich’s bow control allows him to paint consistent lines throughout every register when necessary. Yet the range of qualities he found just in the orotund bottom string sounded like several different violins. The security of his double-stops in the slow movements of the Brahms and Poulenc sonatas was stunning; two good violinists playing together could not have sounded more expressive.

Even with a major artist, minor quibbles arise; Hadelich ignored the “piu sostenuto” (slower) marking in the Brahms sonata’s development section, and he is perhaps too musical to really milk the flash and trash in the first portion of the “Zigeuner­weisen,” which above all needs a sense of maudlin fun. But the essence of Hadelich’s playing is beauty: reveling in the myriad ways of making a phrase come alive on the violin, delivering the musical message with no technical impediments whatsoever, and thereby revealing something from a plane beyond ours. This was the best recital I’ve heard this season.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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