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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

Avie 2317
  • Violin Concerto #1 in B Flat Major, K. 207
  • Violin Concerto #2 in D Major, K. 211
  • Violin Concerto #3 in G Major, K. 216
  • Violin Concerto #4 in D Major, K. 218
  • Violin Concerto #5 in A Major, K. 219
  • Sinfonia Concertante in E Flat Major, K. 364 *
* Matthew Lipman, viola
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
Avie AV2317 2CDs

Rachel Barton Pine is a deeply serious musician who records on small independent labels with highly imaginative projects. So, to see Pine tackle such overdone repertoire with such established artists initially borders on the disappointing. Even Pine, who is by all accounts a passionate advocate for musical education and research, ends up having to justify this recording with a desire to bring Mozart's operatic side to the violin. To my inner cynic, this seems questionable. Of course, Pine's tone and musicianship are beyond reproach, but did we really need the late Neville Marriner and the Academy in this music again? After Oistrakh, Mutter, and so many others, would this prove worthwhile?

In a word, absolutely. No matter how frail he might have been at this point, the Academy under Marriner is energized and accompanies vigorously. Avie captures them very well. But the real star is Pine, who plays with exceptional taste and a truly "singing" tone (I couldn't help myself). She really does appear to be storytelling here. Each movement has a sense of individuality and character that blander versions ignore. Tempos are quick, but never crude, while slow movements retain the necessary momentum to avoid going slack. As always with Pine, her virtuosity is placed wholly in the service of the music; she has the chops to play anything, but always does so with an air of poise and grace. This fits her personality, as even in her twenties she was less a rock star soloist than a modest personality of boundless curiosity.

The G Major Concerto (#3) illustrates this perfectly. There's a swiftness that's totally in fashion these days, and yet the music has an effortlessness and complete lack of mechanical stiffness that's refreshing. In the famed Adagio, the tempo might strike some as a touch fast, and yet the violinist's entrance captures the rapturous nature of the piece just as effectively as more "Romantic" versions. And of course, no Pine CD would be complete without some original writing, namely the imaginative and highly effective cadenzas that grace each concerto. She and Matthew Lipman work wonderfully together in K. 364.

The sound, as previously mentioned, is very good. I would not make this my sole set of these youthful masterpieces, if only because there are many ways to delight in this music. I miss the fat, robust tone of Oistrakh, and the razor-sharpness of Biondi (#1-3). There's Heifetz in the late concertos, works he considered especially difficult and treated with a near-reverence given the source. But all things considered, this is as beautiful and carefully considered a cycle as yo are likely to find, from a committed and consistently underrated violinist.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman