Elgar: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Andrew Litton, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Avie AV2375.

American violinist Rachel Barton Pine (b. 1974) began her recording career with the Dorian and Cedille labels in the mid 1990's, which is about where I first encountered her. She continued mostly with Cedille, with an occasional detour to Hannsler and Warner Classics before going to Avie Records in the last few years. Whatever the record company, she has continued to produce well poised and sweetly polished performances, with some of the best sound afforded a violinist. The present disc is no exception.

English composer Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was forever Elgar. His style is unmistakable, whether in his symphonies, his concertos, or his marches. The Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 is no exception, its opening notes sounding like much else of Elgar's in its aristocratic, ceremonial manner. But then it moves into a slightly melancholy subject that more suits Ms. Barton Pine's music making, a "rich" and "soulful" mood as she describes it. Certainly, rich and soulful are apt descriptors of Ms. Barton Pine's style.

Rachel Barton Pine
More important, I think, is that Barton Pine does little to take our attention away from the music itself. She is not an idiosyncratic performer in any way, and her interpretation, while exceptionally expressive, is not entirely out of the mainstream. What's more, Andrew Litton and the BBC Symphony accompany the soloist as though they had done this sort of thing before. I jest, of course, as they probably have done this sort of thing a hundred times. Incidentally, Sir Neville Marriner was to accompany her but passed away shortly before the time of the recording. In a booklet note, Ms. Barton Pine gives her thanks to him for helping her prepare for and better understand the work.

Anyway, there is much to enjoy in Ms. Barton Pine's recording, including the sensitive way she negotiates the ins and outs, the cogency and mournfulness of the first movement (or as some listeners have suggested, the masculine-feminine dialogue); the ethereal qualities of the central Andante; and the tumultuous poetry of the final movement. Hers is a strong, virtuosic account of a sometimes underrated piece of music. Given the quality of the performance and the sound, this may be the best recording of the Elgar in the catalogue.

Ms. Barton Pine pairs the Elgar with the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 by Max Bruch (1838-1920). This familiar concerto is a work that in many ways imitates, or at least pays tribute, to Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Bruch premiered a much revised version in 1867, and it soon became a staple of the violin repertoire. Bruch's lush, lofty, lilting melodies seem tailor-made for Ms. Barton Pine's elegantly honed technique so the whole thing comes off as movingly as anybody's.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Robert Winter recorded the music at BBC Maida Vale Studio No. 1, Delaware Road, London in January 2017. The sound is full and wide ranging, with the violin well centered, if a trifle close. The depth of image is fine, too, as are the frequency extremes and the dynamic impact. Moreover, there's a pleasant warmth attending the music, along with a touch of hall resonance and an overriding smoothness that compliment Ms. Barton Pine's playing.

JJP

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


3 comments:

  1. I haven't heard this recording but I know many older ones. There is one quite new that deserves attention, the one by violinist Catherine Manoukian and her conducting husband Stefan Solyom on Berlin Classics. Regards, Thomas Roth

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rachel Barton Pine is an extraordinary musician. She is so thoughtful, and meticulous in her preparation, that her performances are truly special. The Elgar/Bruch disc is wonderful!

    ReplyDelete

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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 John 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.

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa