Rachel Rocks the House (okay, the barge)

Rachel Barton Pine brought both her daring approach to programming and dynamic artistic personality to a demanding program of solo violin music last night at Bargemusic.

For those who are not familiar with Bargemusic, it is precisely what the name implies: music presented inside a barge docked in New York City’s East River near the eastern foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a small venue with a live acoustic and nearly no reverberation when filled with people (the cabin can seat around 150 people quite comfortably). Listeners hear everything with no medium- or large-hall “sweetening” (along with various random and very reverberant sounds the barge itself makes when it gets buffeted by the wake of traffic traveling up or down the East River), and the hall gave the “ex-Soldat” Guarneri del Gesu on which Pine plays a stronger midrange sound and rich overtones.

The acoustics put the natural focus on Pine’s extraordinary attention to details of attack, phrasing and dynamics in Bach’s Partita II, which she played with a baroque bow. Nevertheless, the hall sound didn’t detract from her total command of larger structural matters, particularly maintaining the momentum of the opening Allemande and the high-octane Gigue. The famous Chaconne had enormous expressive variety; I’ve never heard it better in concert. Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 4 was dedicated to his friend Kreisler, and Pine vividly evoked the spirit of the great Viennese violinist, navigating this enormously challenging knuckle-bender of a sonata with stunning assurance.

The second half was made up entirely of works dedicated to and/or composer for Pine plus a couple of her own transcriptions. Although most of the works may well be suited to a role as an encore, every one is a substantial work. I was particularly impressed (again) by José Serebrier’s Aires de Tango, a work with sometimes brooding, sometimes lyrical references to the South American dance. I also enjoyed prominent klezmer fiddle player Yale Strom’s Vaynshl No. 1, a short virtuoso work that reveals him as an imaginative composer, creating sounds simultaneously evoking George Enescu and folk music of the Carpathian mountains. Both Philip Pan’s Thrash and Edgar Gabriel’s Theme and Variations make extensive use of sonorities, harmonic sequences and rhythms straight out of heavy metal rock (Pine is also the violinist for Chicago-based kick-ass monsters of metal Earthen Grave). Both were not only entertaining but impressive in packing significant musical impact into very brief packages. Pine’s transcription of Albéniz’s Asturias fused elements of both original versions (one for piano, another for guitar) to great effect.

Rachel Barton Pine is without question one of the most innovative and communicative violinists to be found anywhere today, and is well worth going out of your way to see in person. On this particular occasion, I was also amused by one of those intangible moments that is well outside the artist’s control: shortly after she began the Gabriel, a rather large craft was seen speeding by on the East River; less than a minute later, the barge was getting well-shaken by the craft’s wake as the variations reached a peak of intensity. The timing was near-perfect as Rachel rocked the house (okay, the barge).

Bach Partita No. 2 in D minor
Ysaye Sonata No. 4
Augusta Read Thomas Rush
José Serebrier Aires de Tango
Luis Jorge González Epitalamio Tanguero
Fred Onovwerosuoke Six and a Half Variations
Yale Strom Vaynshl No. 1
Philip Pan Thrash
Edgar Gabriel Theme and Variations
trad. arr. Jesus Florido Ballada Espagnola
Isaac Albeniz arr. Rachel Barton Pine Asturias

Rachel Barton Pine, violin

Friday, December 2, 2010

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