Baltimore native Hilary Hahn made a most welcome return performance with her hometown orchestra Thursday at Strathmore in Bethesda.
Much had happened since she last appeared with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2011. She canceled several months of concerts in 2014 because of a hand injury, and last summer she became a mother.
Whatever the reasons might be, her rendition of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53, was not quite up to the stratospheric standards she set and has maintained for nearly
20 years now.
Hahn remains one of the greatest violinists in the world. The musical architecture is worked out to the millimeter; the flawless brilliance of her top register dazzles the ear; the rock-steady control of rhythm and accents makes everything seem natural and inevitable, and the cleanliness of her bow arm puts a little sparkle on each note.
All of this was fully present in the Dvorak, but there were tiny slips here and there that were uncharacteristic. The ridiculously hard broken octaves near the end of the piece were not perfectly in place, and the big tune at the start of the adagio didn’t sing out with the chocolaty warmth that she so often brought to similar passages in the past.
These are small quibbles, notable only because I never had any before (violinistically speaking), hearing her at least a half-dozen times over the years.
And Hahn on an off night is still above almost all her peers. She and guest conductor Hannu Lintu were enjoying themselves with the piece, and the ovation from audience and orchestra at the end was volcanic. May she grace our stages many more times.
Lintu then returned for Sibelius’s “Four Legends from the Kalevala,” Op. 22. Although “The Swan of Tuonela” and “Lemminkäinen’s Return” pop up on orchestra programs now and then, the two longer pieces are rarely heard, and they should be.
As Lintu remarked, the collection really amounts to Sibelius’s Eighth Symphony, and his performance was rich with drama and detail. I have more than once noticed that the BSO seems to play better with unfamiliar music; the musicians all have to take the parts home and practice them carefully, and a strong conductor, such as Lintu, can work wonders. He has an unsophisticated stick technique — beat patterns are pretty general, and his left hand simply mirrors the right for much of the time.
But his authority in this discursive, elusive music was palpable. He directed it as if the ancient Finnish “Kalevala” saga was unfolding before his eyes, exhorting the BSO to feverish, if not pristine, playing. Kudos to Jane Marvine for her extended English horn solo.
Battey is a freelance writer.