Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Rachel Barton Pine

Jan. 24, Virginia Commonwealth University

Rachel Barton Pine’s performance in VCU’s Rennolds Chamber Music Series series was as much a reunion with an old friend as it was a violin recital. (Of course, not many old friends come calling with a 1742 Guarneri in hand.)

In her fifth appearance here since 1999, Pine ranged pretty widely across the repertory, from Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 1 in F minor, a stark and portentous evocation of wartime violence and suffering, to Antonio Bazzini’s comically frenzied “Dance of the Goblins.” The 40-year-old, Chicago-born violinist also was a personable and informative tour guide in her comments between selections.

Pianist Matthew Hagle was a more than supportive accompanist, adding depth and atmosphere to the Prokofiev and a full palette of tone color to Franck’s Sonata in A major and a set of lullabies.

The Franck was the program’s musical highlight. Pine essayed this familiar sonata with authority and sensitivity to French high-romantic style and expressive rhetoric. She also summoned the richest array of tone and color from her violin in this piece.

The instrument’s subtler qualities were not much called for in the Prokofiev sonata (except in its muted “wind in the graveyard” effects) or in Schubert’s Duo in A major, and the fiddle’s brilliance at high volume was not showcased in the lullabies.

Pine began collecting lullabies for violin after the birth of her daughter; she’s up to about 150 by now. The pieces she chose for this program – Brahms’ familiar “Wegenlied” in Albert Spalding’s arrangement, Eugène Ysaÿe’s “Rêve d’Enfant” (“Child’s Dream”), Rebecca Clarke’s Lullaby (1918) and “Mother and Child” from William Grant Still’s Suite for violin and piano (1943) – were, for the most part, moodily wistful in expression and nuanced in voicing.

Two of Pine’s selections were directly linked to her Guarneri. The instrument was formerly owned by one of the first women to achieve prominence as a violinist, Marie Soldat-Roeger (1863-1955), who performed for and with Brahms; and earlier by Bazzini, who may well have devised the tonal and technical pyrotechnics of “Dance of the Goblins” on this fiddle.