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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

Sonatas for Violin and Piano

  • Sonata in F Major, K. 376 (17:36)
  • Sonata in G Major, K. 301 (14:17)
  • Sonata in E minor, K. 304 (12:41)
  • Sonata in A Major, K. 526 (25:08)
Hilary Hahn, violin
Natalie Zhu, piano
Recorded Fisher Center for the Performing Arts,
Bard College, NY, February/November 2004
Released October 2005
Deutsche Grammophon 477557-2 69:42
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Comparison (K. 304 & 526) – Steinberg/Uchida/Philips

Just three months ago I reviewed a fabulous Mozart Violin Sonatas disc played by Mark Steinberg and Mitsuko Uchida. Now, the immensely popular 25 year-old Hilary Hahn tries her hands at these works partnered by Natalie Zhu on piano.

Uchida/Steinberg is a hard act to follow, but Hahn and Zhu pass the test. Zhu doesn't possess Uchida's elasticity or softness of touch, but she offers a ceremonial element that is very appealing. Zhu and Hahn display excellent teamwork, and both are emotionally invested in the music as evidenced by their heart-felt refrains in the anguished and spiritually uplifting 2nd Movement of the Sonata in E minor.

The major difference between the two sets of performances rests on the approach of the respective violinists. At one end of the spectrum is Steinberg with a historically informed performance style of lean tone/texture and minimal vibrato. Hahn ignores the past 40 years of accumulated insight as to the style of playing during Mozart's era and offers us a rather thick tone with vibrato either lurking or on full display in nearly every note. My preference is definitely with Steinberg's style, but I assume that many listeners would favor Hahn's way with these classical era works. The sonics of the Hahn disc are excellent, and Zhu is given more flattering sound than Uchida who has to deal with swimmy acoustics.

Don's Conclusions: Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu make a fine duo that well brings out the melodic genius of Mozart. I do caution that those who prefer the Violin Sonatas on period instruments or modern ones played in an historically informed manner will find Hahn's style problematic.

For a different opinion, I refer readers to the MusicWeb International review that finds Hahn not in tune with the spirit of the music and on the drab side. Although my view of the disc is more favorable, we are in agreement that Hahn/Zhu is not an essential part of one's Mozart collection. My recommendations for the most rewarding modern instrument recordings of Mozart Violin Sonatas remain Uchida/Steinberg, Lonquich/ Zimmermann on EMI, Haebler/Szeryng on Philips, and Klein/Grumiaux on Philips.

Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz