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:

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


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa