Violin Lullabies (CD review)

Featuring works by Brahms, Gershwin, Ravel, Schubert, Strauss, and many more. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Matthew Hagle, piano. Cedille CDR 90000 139.

Who doesn’t like a lullaby? Everybody likes a lullaby. For many of us, it was the first music we ever heard. Lullabies are so popular that almost every classical composer of the last few hundred (nay, perhaps few thousand) years wrote some of them. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and piano accompanist Matthew Hagle have chosen over two dozen examples of the genre for performance on the present disc. The playing is beautiful and the music relaxing, all of it inspirational in its way.

Ms. Pine explains in a booklet note that while the repertoire for the album had been in the back of her mind for quite some time, the birth of her first child actually inspired the program, which she plays on a 1742 “ex-Soldat” Guarneri del Gesu, Cremona.

While I admit that I’m not overly fond of albums containing bits and pieces of things, I can easily make an exception with this one. I also admit that the older I get (which is beginning to verge on ancient), the more sentimental I become. Thus, the Brahms Wiegenlied (“Cradle Song”), possibly the most-famous lullaby ever written, that opens the program practically brought tears to my eyes. It’s positively lovely, with committed, heartfelt playing from Ms. Pine, whose own child must certainly be lucky to have so talented a mother to play these things for her now and throughout her life. Ms. Pine says that some of these lullabies are part of a bedtime routine for her child, which she sings to the baby every day, often joined by her husband an octave lower. The cover and inlay photos, incidentally, are those of Sylvia Pine, age two weeks.

Bits and pieces notwithstanding, I think I could listen to this stuff all day. Also called berceuse in French and wiegenlied in German, there is more variety in the lullaby or cradlesong than you might suppose. Ms. Pine’s collection illustrates the point with as many variations of the theme as possible in a seventy-nine minute album. She describes them as “short and elegant” pieces, and surely they are, most them composed for violin and piano.

Of course, I have my favorites on the disc. The aforementioned Brahms, for sure; an even more wistful one by Amy Beach; a Scottish-inflected one by Ludwig Schwab; a rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime” that never sounded more soulful; a particularly endearing piece by Faure; a more austere one by Sibelius; a jaunty number from Pauline Viardot-Garcia; and a mystically Romantic one by twentieth-century composer Alan Hovhaness that fits right at home with the composers of the nineteenth century.

Then, too, you’ll not mistake Stravinsky’s lullaby from the Firebird for anything but Stravinsky. And there is Schubert, as you would expect producing one of the most melodious lullabies of all, as is the Schumann that follows it. Over a dozen more complement these selections, each of them a perfect little gem from the likes of Respighi, Falla, Grieg, Reger, Richard Strauss, and more.

Obviously, the violinist in such material must be completely in tune with the mood of these pieces and must display an emotional sensitivity to go with it. Ms. Pine has the credentials, the virtuosity, and the temperament to offer up this music as a part of herself. One couldn’t ask for greater versatility in a performer.

Cedille founder, producer, and president James Ginsburg and ace engineer Bill Maylone made the album in 2012 at the Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, 98.7 WFMT, Chicago, Illinois. What they got for their trouble is one of the most realistic violin sounds I’ve found. You can hear every nuance of the bowing, every rasp, every stroke, every quiver, every detail. The piano is fine, too, although it is well in the background providing a soft accompaniment.

You may access additional lullabies from Rachel Barton Pine and Matthew Hagle at iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/funf-lieder-op.-49-no.-4-wiegenlied/id634009865?i=634010273&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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