Press Release - September, 2004
VIOLINIST RACHEL BARTON PINE
Performing on an Unaltered Baroque Violin, Pine
"You can really see the shoulders on which Bach stood," Pine says, in describing the rarely performed pieces on the recording. "I think this is the first time listeners will be able to hear a Sonata and a Partita of Bach's as a part of a long-standing, century-old tradition of unaccompanied music for the violin in Germany. You often read about these pieces, but when you hear them back-to-back - from Biber in the 1670s and Westhoff in the 1690s to Pisendel right before Bach - you hear a natural progression that brings us to Bach."
For this recording, Pine plays a 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin that is a genuine rarity - a great instrument that was never modernized. Since it did not have to be "re-baroqued" to accommodate Baroque performance practices, it retains the sound the maker intended. Pine says it is "almost unheard of to find an instrument of this quality in this condition."
"When a violin has gone under the knife and been modernized and then 're-baroqued', the result isn't always great, because you are always approximating what it might have sounded like - you never know for sure," she adds. "You can 're-baroque' a violin by changing all the removable parts, but you can't put back the wood that was scraped away when it was 're-graduated' - a process that makes the top and bottom plates thinner, to make the instrument louder for modern concert halls and later repertoire. One of the extraordinary things about this violin is that the plates are intact. It is in pristine condition. The varnish is absolutely pure. It looks like it left the maker's shop yesterday."
The instrument - along with the Baroque bow she uses and years of study and development of Baroque style - allows Pine a distinctive approach to the works on this recording. She calls the Biber, Westhoff and Pisendel "the pieces that really jumped out at me as the strongest" of the unaccompanied Baroque violin music she has been collecting since she first became interested in the repertoire at age 14.
Biber's Passacaglia is the longest known single-movement work for solo violin written prior to the Chaconne of Bach's D Minor Partita. Westhoff's suites for violin are the only cycle of multi-movement polyphonic works for violin that predate Bach. Pisendel was Bach's contemporary, an admired composer and the greatest violin virtuoso of his time in Germany. Vivaldi, Telemann and other composers dedicated works to Pisendel, and Bach admired him. It is believed that Pisendel was the only violinist besides the composer to play Bach's solo Sonatas and Partitas during Bach's lifetime.
"I think these pieces are the greatest examples of the tradition that preceded Bach," Pine notes. "Part of the living and breathing music-making in that tradition was creating multiple-voice music for the violin, often extemporaneously. The written examples we have are only a fraction of the music that was actually created, but I think it is important to understand that Bach built upon the work of others who paved the way. At the same time, he transcended that, to achieve something truly miraculous."
Bach has a special place in Rachel Barton Pine's musical life and career, from the time she first heard and played his music in church as a little girl. A pivotal moment in her career came in 1992, when at the age of 17 she was awarded the gold medal at the J.S. Bach International Violin Competition in Leipzig. She was the first American and the youngest artist ever to take the gold medal, which the competition judges have not awarded since she won it 12 years ago.
Though she continues to perform the music of Bach and other Baroque composers on a modern instrument in mixed recital programs, Pine prefers to "use the equipment for which Bach wrote the piece." "I'm not a purist," she says. "In the end what's really important are the phrasing and the character of the playing, and all that can be found with whatever equipment you have at hand. But everything I want to do with Bach I can do so much more easily on Baroque equipment. The bow opens up a whole different world of tone color and articulation, and the gut strings give you a unique palette - this is what Bach wrote for."
Rachel Barton Pine's new unaccompanied Baroque disc, her sixth for Cedille Records, comes in the wake of international acclaim for her recording of Brahms and Joachim Violin Concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Carlos Kalmar, released in June 2003. This unique coupling of closely related Romantic violin concertos earned an impressive "10/10" rating for artistry and sound from ClassicsToday.com and numerous rave reviews. The album also features performances of both Joachim and Pine's own cadenzas for the Brahms Concerto. Gramophone hailed her as "a magnetically imaginative artist who makes every phrase sound fresh." The recording was nominated for a 2004 Grammy Award as "Best Engineered Album, Classical."
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