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Torrid Tartini sets Disney Hall ringing

January 23, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

It's facile but irresistible to link violinist Hilary Hahn's smoldering playing to the fire alarms that went off during her recital Sunday at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. All right, they actually went off during the intermission, after she had finished a fascinating performance of Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata.

The alarms bewildered some in the near-capacity audience (how's that for this star's appeal?), who had just returned to their seats. They didn't know what the buzzers and flashing lights, which started and stopped several times, signaled. Slowly they began filing out of the hall, only to stop when the alarms stopped. Even in the middle of a Philharmonic spokesman's on-stage announcement that the alarms were false, the noise and lights went off again.

All this sparked conversations about previous false alarms at Disney and other halls. (On Monday, a Philharmonic spokesman said the alarms had been triggered by sensors in the REDCAT theater stage, which is also in the Disney Hall complex.)

Hahn and her sympathetic accompanist, Valentina Lisitsa, had put an intriguing spin on Tartini's early 18th century showpiece. The story is that the composer had a dream in which the devil played a near-impossible trill at the end of a bewitching solo and Tartini wrote it all down upon waking. Or tried to. He felt his effort fell far short of what he had heard in his dream.

Hahn and Lisitsa managed to suggest that longing for an out-of-reach ideal even as they lacked nothing in meeting the technical demands of the piece, which in its day set virtuoso standards. The two made the music gentle, personal, forlorn and full of a sense of searching.

Those were some of the qualities they brought to the rest of the diverse five-part program. They opened with Janacek's Sonata for Violin and Piano, a typically idiosyncratic and spiky work that sounds folksy, presciently jazzy and full of nature sounds. But this is not the balmy, nourishing nature you hear in Dvorak, nor the spectral, otherworldly and even commonplace nature of Mahler's strange outdoor night music movements.

In Janacek's nature, insects buzz and bite, which makes the composer's brief, emerging melodies sound all the sweeter.

Mozart's Sonata in A, which followed, was a model of grace, restraint and limpid collaboration. Lisitsa knew when to lead and when to follow, and her contributions here as throughout the recital were exemplary.

Hahn opened the second half with Ysaye's Second Sonata for Solo Violin ("Obsession"), playing this difficult fantasia on the "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath) chant -- which the composer somehow develops out of the opening of Bach's E major Partita -- with control and brilliance.

They concluded the program with Beethoven's mighty "Kreutzer" Sonata, showing intensity and weight in the dramatic first movement, a bit too much repose in the variations of the second, and power and fleet refinement in the third.

The devil was in the details.

There were two encores: Paganini's Cantabile, and the Dinicu-Heifetz "Hora Staccato."

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