Music review

Music review: German violinist Viviane Hagner at Kennedy Center

Thursday, November 26, 2009

German violinist Viviane Hagner opened the Washington Performing Arts Society's Kreeger String Series on Tuesday at the Kennedy Center with a high-fiber recital of Bartók, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Schubert and Schumann.

Hagner, in her late 20s, has been a touring professional soloist for more than half her life, and plays with unruffled poise and technical finish. The concert was less than fully satisfying, though. None of the works was a first-tier masterpiece, none was memorized and only in the closing Schumann Sonata No. 2 in D Minor did the musicmaking really take wing.

Hagner recently acquired a resplendent Stradivarius, and there was no gainsaying the penetration of her sound and wide dynamic range. But the tone itself was not pleasing. She is a petite artist who uses a twisting wrist vibrato, with no real center to the sound; at times, even her lower register came out as shrill. This was most damaging in passages of gentle purity, where the need to color a long line was paramount, such as the slow movement of the Schubert A Minor sonata.

Hagner's partner, Israeli pianist Shai Wosner, was excellent throughout, however, needing only a bit more tempo discipline when playing alone. It would be nice to hear him in a solo program.

The Turnage work, "Four Chants," was a U.S. premiere -- slight, quasi-tonal character pieces, with echoes of jazz; of the four, the third Chant, for unaccompanied violin, held interest the best. The Schumann, with its panting, fervid mood, broken phrases and surging energy, played to Hagner's strengths and minimized her weaknesses.

-- Robert Battey

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