An ambitious project to introduce contemporary works to the forefront, acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn (alongside pianist Cory Smythe) ultimately falls short in her attempt in breaking new ground for contemporary compositions. In 27 Pieces, aptly titled for the number of musical miniatures found within, is brilliant in theory but proves the notion that less is more, and more importantly quality over quantity.
Stemming from Hahn’s interest in pushing the genre further, In 27 Pieces is the result of her meticulous search for some of today’s most defining contemporary composers. Vast and extensive, the composer list for In 27 Pieces runs the gamut from videogame composers to the hot names of the moment such as Nico Muhly and David Lang.
What’s strikingly odd is how for the most part, none of the miniatures are particularly stunning or riveting – straying to just slightly-above satisfactory levels. Take away the names behind each of the works, and you’re at best left with mediocre compositions. So taking into consideration the actual A-list behind each piece and one is left to realize, these are not their best works. While it can be said that each miniature is distinctively representative of each composer’s unique style, background…or even the exact opposite in terms of the composer’s willingness to experiment, on a whole In 27 Pieces is primarily the same sound and style throughout. Shame, considering some miniatures are painfully dragging bringing the quality of the project down and seen more as filler. That’s not to say there are some quality gems on the double-album (Michiru Ohshima’s “Memories” and Max Richter’s beautiful “Mercy” come to mind) but you’d be hard-press to find In 27 Pieces a reasonably enjoyable listen throughout.
Hahn has been one of the few violinist of our day to really push the limits of classical music and blur the lines that divide classical and non-classical listeners. More importantly her recent projects have been exceptionally risky and experimental but nonetheless focused in execution. In 27 Pieces is a concept long overdue and no violinist is suited best for such an endeavor than Hilary Hahn herself. Where In 27 Pieces falters is its surprising lack of imagination and for so many miniatures stretching the talents of Hahn (and the patience of listeners), this really is a case of less is more.
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