There’s something exhilarating about the arrival of Paris from violinist Hilary Hahn (website). It’s an all-out big budget classical music release from a major label, Deutsche Grammophon, that sounds like it was put out by some small, independent audiophile label. We’re talking a 2-LP 45RPM set on 180g vinyl, absolutely glowing sound quality, lavish gatefold packaging and that unmistakable feeling of glamour, as if classical music is finally making a comeback in the US.
I bought this almost on a whim. I have some unexpectedly sophisticated phono preamplifiers in for review from Pass Labs (the XP-27), Allnic Audio (H-5500) and Brinkmann (Edison Mk. 2), and I just wanted to buy some killer new vinyl. Paris from Hilary Hahn stood out on one site’s New Release section–was this a remaster? This looks like an all-out big budget classical music release from a major label. That’s not possibly, is it? Why it is!
This is a new release from Hilary Hahn. 2021’s right on the back cover. Hmmm, I thought. Interesting. And then I almost moved on until I caught something on the front cover: Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1. That’s my favorite violin concerto of all time, but I primarily know it from Itzhak Perlman’s classic 1982 performance on EMI. Whenever I hear someone else’s version, I can’t quite warm up to it. It lacks Perlman’s fire and athleticism. But I have a small problem–I’ve been playing that album since 1982, and I’ve about worn those grooves smooth. Would this be the one that would change my mind?
It didn’t start out promising. Well, this certainly is a languid take on Violin Concerto No. 1, I thought. I don’t think I can handle this tempo, either, and…I’ve been here before. I immediately knew what was wrong with Hilary Hahn, and I knew how to fix it.
After I switched the speed to the proper 45rpm, I immediately noticed two things. First, Hilary Hawn approaches this piece very much like Itzhak Perlman, certainly with the same vigor and passion. I feel like Perlman’s a little quicker, perhaps more dynamic, but Hahn digs deeper into her strings and pulls out more emotions. She knows how to make her violin squeak and rebel while making it sound musical and precise the entire time.
The biggest difference between these two albums is the orchestra. On the Perlman album, the BBC Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky) sounds ultra-detailed and perhaps a bit lit up. This is perhaps because it is an EMI Angel Digital release from 1982, so it doesn’t sound like an RCA Shaded Dog. (It’s still not bad in absolute terms.) But on the Hilary Hahn album, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (conducted by Mikko Franck) does. The strings have that warm and wooly sound that will bring you back to the Golden Era of the late ’50s. The only reminder that this is 2021 is Hilary Hahn herself–her violin playing is crisp and woody and guttural and ultimately it soars through you and makes all the right connections. It leaps from the grooves into your room and startles you with its honesty.
Here’s the spooky part about Hilary Hawn and Paris. They’re not charging $55 or $75 or whatever they charge for 2-LP 45rpm 180g remasters that sound as perfect and pristine as this. It’s just $35. I would have paid that much for just the Prokofiev piece. But you get a second album included at no extra cost! The second album includes a performance of Ernest Chausson’s Poeme op.25, and contemporary composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Deux Serenades.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering about the Paris connection. Chausson lived in Paris, Prokofiev’s violin concerto was premiered there, and Rautavaara’s work “also premiered in Paris–in the performance recorded here.” That underlines Hilary Hahn and her commitment to contemporary composers–she’s one of the few musicians who regularly commissions pieces, such as Deux Serenades.
What else can I say? I wish there were more modern classical releases like this, all stops pulled, spare no expense. What’s most surprising is the delicacy and focus of Hilary Hahn and her orchestra. I hope Paris changes things, even just a little.