Until now violinist Hilary Hahn has been highly regarded most notably for her recording achievements as a classical violinist. Her interpretations of Elgar and Barber in particular have won lasting acclaim, while more recently she has taken on the four violin sonatas of Charles Ives. Hauschka, on the other hand, has continued to surprise, challenge and entice ears with his writing for ‘prepared’ piano – that is, a piano manipulated with ping pong balls, gaffer tape, aluminium foil and other studio trickery.
The two came together through a mutual friend, Tom Brosseau, and their first collaborative long player, recorded in Iceland, suggests the start of a fruitful musical relationship. It comes as no surprise to report that a man of Hauschka’s imagination has effectively collaborated in music for ‘prepared violin’, for Hahn’s instrument projects all manner of clicks and whistles alongside the piano, with broad lyrical strokes complementing more percussive effects, while rapid tremolando figures alternate with sweet, soaring strokes.
There are moments of raw beauty in some of this music, with the intriguing stories behind each track documented on the pair’s website. The first, appropriately titled Stillness, ghosts in and soars beautifully as if on the wing. Rift also glides, seemingly without flapping its wings, although here the accompaniment is more fractious, the violin obsessively picking at the same note with rapid monotony. North Atlantic initially looks to cast its eye back towards Bach, before updating itself with more modern musical language. Bounce Bounce, meanwhile, finds a much more brittle edge to Hauschka’s piano, the rustic violin line owing a small debt to Stravinsky.
Technically Hahn really puts her instrument through its paces, using her thorough knowledge and understanding of the violin to conjure some stunning colouristic effects. These are often brightly toned, and because of the nature of the instrument a lot of the tracks feel top heavy, for in his complementary piano lines Hauschka does not use too much bass. Many of the lines are improvised, too, which means the ideas are fresh, caught in the moment.
That also fuels the principal criticism of this partnership thus far, for the sheer profusion of ideas means there are fragments that do not gather as much cumulative power as they might. There are short musical thoughts that threaten to germinate in to bigger structures, but because the tracks themselves are rarely longer than four minutes in length the listener does not always get the chance to hear what might have happened. The obvious exception to this is Godot, which shows how well the ideas can work when developed, clocking in at not far off an engaging quarter of an hour.
What is clear from this record, however, is that Hahn and Hauschka enjoy a keen musical chemistry, one that could yield ever more exciting musical results as it progresses. They are definitely a team to watch.