Review: Gustavo Dudamel Saves the Day at the Philharmonic

The Philharmonic, which Dudamel will lead more frequently next season before officially undertaking his duties, is already showing signs of his influence. And he collaborated seamlessly with the evening’s soloist, the violinist Hilary Hahn, the orchestra’s artist in residence.

A musician of poise and rounded tone, Hahn proved in the Ginastera that she can make just about anything sound beautiful. In her interpretation, the piece shed its acrid angularity. She folded trills, stops and sweet harmonics into unbroken lines, and when she harmonized with herself, she utilized the plushness and patience familiar from her Bach recordings.

The first movement’s six études were a showcase for Hahn’s taste, as well as for her technical skill. She demonstrated ease in fistfuls of chords, silky thirds, gently seesawing arpeggios and glowing harmonics. Her Adagio was warmly spacious, and she dashed off the fiendish Perpetuum Mobile with a touch of rawness that sounded like an interpretive choice rather than an effect of the breakneck speed.

For his part, Dudamel summoned hectoring drama and elemental power in the Ginastera, but also subtlety. The harmonics étude, which exploits the ethereality of celesta, harp and glockenspiel, had an eerie ambivalence that hovered between fairy magic and something more sinister. The study of quarter tones occupied a haunting, liminal state.

The composure that made Hahn’s Ginastera a fascinating exercise in finding beauty in unlikely places shortchanged the flair of Sarasate’s “Carmen” Fantasy, in which elaborations on the sultry melodies of Bizet’s beloved opera invite showmanship. More rhythmic alacrity would have propelled lines forward. In melodic passages like the Habanera, Hahn turned a little singsongy, but the “Tra la la” section, with its languorous flirtations, suited the way she sits back and luxuriates in her sound. Her encore, the Loure from Bach’s Partita No. 3, likewise had a lovely, long-limbed quality.

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