It's always a pleasure to welcome a new recording by American virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine (b. 1974). She began her concert career at the age of ten with Erich Leinsdorf and the Chicago Symphony in the mid 1980's and her recording career with the Dorian and Cedille labels in the mid 1990's. It was here with Cedille that I first encountered her and, I'm proud to say, first began reviewing her recordings. She continued making records mostly with Cedille up until just a few years ago when she began working with Avie Records. While today she appears to be recording with both Cedille and Avie, 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 Avie disc is a case in point.
Here, Ms. Barton Pine tackles two giant works of the violin concerto genre, those by Dvorak and Khachaturian, starting the album with the Dvorak. Even though Dvorak's Violin Concerto took its place in the basic classical repertoire long ago, it has never seemed to quite catch on with the public the way those from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and others have caught on. The Dvorak maybe hasn't quite the soaring lines, memorable melodies, and grand Romantic gestures we find in other popular concertos. Still, it offers its fair share of pleasures, which Ms. Barton Pine is eager to share with us.
So, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53 in 1879, premiering it in 1883. The famous Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher Joseph Joachim inspired Dvorak to write the piece, and the composer intended for Joachim to play it. However, as it turned out, Joachim didn't much care for the finished work and never did perform it. Despite the violinist's skepticism, though, Dvorak released the piece, and the rest is history, as they say. Still, I have some lingering doubts myself. Maybe Joachim had something, the music never impressing me as much as it has impressed some others, even in the capable hands of Ms. Barton Pine.
|Rachel Barton Pine
In the Finale Dvorak returns to the radiant, dance-like tunes and Czech folk melodies of the opening movement. Ms. Barton Pine's interpretation is a delight, and along with Perlman (EMI) and Mutter (DG) must now count as one of the best recorded performances of the work available.
Coupled with the Dvorak we find the Violin Concerto of Soviet-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). He wrote it in 1940, and Soviet violinist David Oistrakh premiered it the same year. Apparently, Khachaturian found much influence for the work from the folk music of his native Armenia. It is a surprisingly old-fashioned piece of music for the mid twentieth century, with much rhythm, vitality, and melody, which may explain why it won the Stalin Prize in 1941 from a notoriously conservative body of Soviet judges who at the time were pretty much down on anything sounding even vaguely modern.
Ms. Barton Pine plays the Khachaturian with abandon. It appears she has had plenty of practice in doing so as she says she had an immediate connection with the work, and for a while it was her "go-to concerto for competitions." She brings out all the folk-inspired qualities of the music and invests it with a profusion of color.
Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Simon Eadon recorded the concertos at RSNO Centre, Glasgow, Scotland in August 2018. The sound is quite good, with the soloist well centered and not too far out in front of the orchestra. Meanwhile, the orchestral detailing is also good, perhaps a tad bright and forward but nothing too objectionable. The dynamic range is wide, and transient impact is more than adequate. What's more, any minor edge in the upper frequencies is more than mitigated by the warmth of the lower midrange and upper bass. I don't think most people will be disappointed in Avie's sound.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: