Hilary Hahn’s Project of a Lifetime

The last time we featured a recording by Hilary Hahn as our WCRB CD of the week, it was a personally-curated collection of favorite recordings from her brilliant career – but now, she’s made an album of Bach, and it may be her most personal album yet.

The genius and humanity of Bach’s music has brought solace to people around the world for hundreds of years. His is the source from which all other music seems to flow. He is elemental for virtually every musician. For cellists, the solo suites are everything – and for violinists, the solo sonatas and partitas are six companions that stay with a player for life. 

Bach is a prominent part of Hilary Hahn’s daily life, and he’s a frequent topic in her refreshingly candid social media posts about her struggles and successes. Her appetite for sharing her perspectives on her own playing has been helpful for many others and brought Bach into the lives of young people around the world. Her fans have wondered when the recording that completes the set of six great pieces would finally appear.

When Hilary Hahn was just 16 (she turns 39 later this month) she recorded her first album. She’d been playing at least one movement from the Sonatas and Partitas every day since she was nine, and it was clear to her that her first recording would have to be Bach. She chose three of the six pieces, and the other three settled into a comforting place “on the horizon.” She enjoyed knowing that they were there, waiting to meet her in a recording studio in the future.  Then, when she was 32, she felt the time had come. She recorded them over the course of a year, telling no one. But when she was done, a strange thing happened – she couldn’t bring herself to listen.

Read her liner notes to see how she found her way to finally making this disc. You need only hear the way she arrives at the top of the very first chord on this recording (the 1st Sonata) to know that there is a deep adventure ahead. The fugue from that Sonata (track 2) dances with sheer clarity and confidence, with a wisdom about it that can only come from years and years of co-habitation. The Allemande (Double) from the 1st Partita (track 6) seems to arrive from the clear blue – as if it were a memory. Hahn leans in to dissonances in a way that makes them glow, without interrupting the inevitable pulse of these pieces. It’s no wonder that she’s happy with the result.

It’s beautifully recorded with intimate sound and a beautiful sense of warm space.

Watch a trailer for the album:

WCRB's Brian McCreath talks with Hilary Hahn about performing and recording Bach's solo violin music:

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.