Rachel Barton Pine performed a recital in Fletcher Opera Theater on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, playing under the auspices of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's Masters Series. Her partner was pianist Matthew Hagle, her regular accompanist of long standing. The two seem made for each other, artistically. Her violin is the storied Guarneri, del Gesù, instrument known as the "ex-Soldat" (as in Marie Soldat-Roeger, a pupil of Josef Joachim, the friend and collaborator of Brahms; it had earlier been owned by violinist and composer Antonio Bazzini, of whom, more follows below). The piano was a glistening Bösendorfer grand supplied by Ruggero Piano.
Two great instruments. Two great instrumentalists, completely in tune with each other. One great, great concert program. I use the double adjective advisedly.
Barton Pine has been touched by more than her fair share of tragedy, details of which may be found online (Wiki offers a good recap) but are absent from her professional bio. With her young child now often in tow as she tours, she projects a positive and reassuring image of complete investment in her art. This showed from start to finish during her generous and immaculately-realized Fletcher recital. She's played before in North Carolina, in Brevard, and her CDs have been reviewed here, including four with her early-music trio plus a lullabies disc and one devoted to Mendelssohn and Schumann. (My colleague Marvin Ward did not beat around the bush with regard to the early music offerings; he wrote: "This is the finest recorded set of historically-informed Baroque period recitals that I have ever encountered." Yes.) Nonetheless I was basically unprepared for the level of artistry we were to experience.
In Raleigh, the duo began with Schubert's Sonata in A, generally called the "Grand Duo." Readers of a certain age (or with long memories of their parents' record collections) will recall a standard-setting 78 rpm performance by none other than Kreisler and Rachmaninoff, a version that has probably never been out of print. I imprinted it early, and it pleases me to report that the rendition given in Raleigh was certainly its equal. Barton Pine's tone was here so sweet, so intimate, so perfectly matched to the work of the pianist, that it seemed in many respects as if we were hearing the work for the very first time.
Recordings are, of course, not the best guides to evaluating concert performances, as we've often counseled would-be critics. But recorded music is nonetheless a factor in our musical lives, and this was again the case with the second work on the program, Prokofiev's Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80, premiered by David Oistrakh (who gave a concert in Raleigh in the fall of 1962 that remains emblazoned in the memory) and Lev Oborin, whose 1946 recording remains available here. This has to be a heavy burden on younger players, but there were no signs of angst from these two visitors, whose rendition of the stark, at times chilling piece explored every conceivable emotional twist and turn. To call this a brilliant performance is an understatement. Words fail me.
Barton Pine introduced the Prokofiev with insightful comments that significantly enhanced the listening experience. She spoke again before each of the parts of the second half, the first of which consisted of four lullabies (of well over a hundred) she collected to celebrate the birth of her daughter. The four played here – by Brahms (note the link from the composer to Barton Pine through Soldat…), as set by Albert Spalding (part of the American sporting goods clan), Ysaÿe, Rebecca Clarke , and William Grant Still (whose papers are, incidentally, at Duke) – made up an extraordinary little suite of quasi-parlor pieces, richly sentimental; but no one could possibly have complained, so total was the interpreters' commitment.
The grand finale of the printed program was Franck's Sonata in A, heard in all manner of transcriptions but really meant for the violin. Yes, it's a war horse of a piece although truth to tell it is no longer trotted out quite so often as it once was, perhaps because of the comparative scarcity of recitals in general and most especially because violinists and pianists who can do it justice seem to come along much less often. In any event, this was as breath-taking as the rest of the concert, and it's therefore easy enough to say that when a magnificent steed like this is properly groomed and presented, it too can constitute a musical experience that lingers long after the concert at which it appears.
Incidentally, the violinist stood for the entire program, and she played the lullabies from memory.
It was already five o'clock, and the program had been demanding all around. But the applause was so emphatic an encore was brought forth. Remember Bazzini, cited at the outset? 'Twas his famous (in violin circles, anyway) little Scherzo fantastique, Op. 25, known as "La ronde des lutins" ("Round of the Goblins"). A condensed version of Regency Park's 4th of July fireworks, set off on the Fletcher stage, could not have been more brilliant. (And if you don't believe that, download the music here to see for yourself.) Some of us were hard-pressed to contain ourselves.
There was a pre-concert recital in the lobby by participants in the piano master class of William Chapman Nayho on February 22. The players were Zane Souvanlasy, a student of Welkin Yang; Kevin Xu and Josephine Niu, students of Florence Ko; and Daniel Kim, a student of Olga Kleiankina. They performed on the late Maxine Swalin's small Steinway grand. In music by Mozart, Liszt (yes!), Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin (no kidding!), these young people demonstrated once again that the future of music here is bright, indeed.
PS The superb notes were by our former colleagues, at WordPros.
Alas, words don't fail me with regard to the ambient noise in the hall, always a problem in the back and on the sides in Fletcher but now more intrusive than ever and flat-out bothersome during most musical passages below mezzo-forte. Here's hoping new bearings and additional sound insulation for the HVAC blowers are part of the upgrade to be done this summer.