Monday, April 16, 2012

Rachel Barton Pine at Wolf Trap

And for the finale to last week's concert mini-marathon, we saw violinist Rachel Barton Pine at Wolf Trap, with Matthew Hagle on keys, in a program of sonatas of Mendelssohn, Villa Lobos, Strauss, and a relatively new work for solo violin by the composer Mohammed Fairouz.

Pine (random disclosure: we went to the same church in Chicago growing up) can be a nearly overwhelming performer, but is also capable of great restraint and good taste as needed. Hence the contrast of the program's first half. The hugely appealing Mendelssohn Sonata in F Major was light-filled and unfolded with a disarming casualness--one only missed some comparable lightness in the piano, which seemed a bit heavy at times with coordination suffering in a few of the nimbler passages. The piece which followed, the Villa Lobos Sonata No. 3, might have arrived from another planet. Pine made a persuasive case for the sonata: digging deep for the anguished, meandering line of the first movement, always on the edge of a nearly unbearable tension; finding a skittery energy in the dark humor of second; and utterly captivating in the driven, extravagant, ultimately exhausted third. Heger was a formidable partner here, contributing some simply explosive playing in the finale.

After the half (and some nice banter with the artists that is apparently a feature of this series) we heard a relatively new sonata for solo violin by the composer Mohammed Fairouz, a commission written for Pine. This is the first I have heard of Fairouz (not that that counts for much), but he boasts an prolific and varied output, including an opera performed at Zankel Hall earlier this month. The Sonata, for its part, is a hugely rewarding work, and well tailored to Pine's talents. The slow movements, including the standout 3rd, dedicated to the uprising in Egypt, and moving 5th, conceived as a lullaby to Pine's new daughter, demonstrated a great talent for lines of unexpected but exceptional beauty. A second movement, incorporating fragments of Arabic melody, had some moments of thrilling virtuosity but was perhaps the least distinctive of the set.

The last work was Richard Strauss' Sonata in E flat. As with a lot of old-skool Strauss, it has a skillful decadence, but a sense of late romantic bloat casts a bit of a shadow over the whole thing. Pine and Heger offered an admirable account though, with lots of opportunities to revel in her sumptuous tone, and a barnstorming finale.

For encores, Pine demonstrated her considerable talents in non-classical genres, with a sort of virtuouso metal/blues rendition of, um, "Sweet Home Chicago" and a hushed, languorous "Summertime."

Pine played the Castleton festival Sunday as well, subbing a Piazzolla piece for the Fairouz sonata, though it doesn't look like there was any coverage of either given the serious competition for critic ears over the weekend. DC gets another chance in January when she'll be at the Phillips collection playing a program of Pagannini's caprices.

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