Rachel Barton Pine
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its 2014-15 season with a remarkably generous and diversified program at the Capitol Theater on Friday. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and violist Matthew Lipman served as guest soloists.
The concert began with a brisk account of the Overture to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Then, with the appearance of Barton Pine, things got down to serious business.
Barton Pine is one of the most accomplished and enterprising American violinists on the performance circuit right now. Always looking for fresh material, she was apparently eager to take up conductor Andrew Sewell's suggestion to play Violin Concerto No. 5 by Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881).
Among the most brilliant violinists of his time, this Belgian virtuoso was also an active composer. For his own display purposes, Vieuxtemps composed a grand total of nine concertos, most of which have faded much out of fashion by now. Nevertheless, the fourth and fifth were championed by Jascha Heifetz, who repeatedly played and recorded them.
No. 5 is a fiery and theatrical work, ripe in bravura writing but full of satisfying material and greatly deserving of revival. The work's virtuosic demands were brought off fabulously by Barton Pine, balanced by sweet lyricism that demonstrated her genuine musicality and comprehensive understanding.
Barton Pine followed this demanding work with another shorter and better-known one: the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso of Saint-Saëns, composed for another 19th-century fiddle wizard, Pablo de Sarasate. Barton Pine brought this piece off with even more fantastic panache, winning a standing ovation. As a reward to the audience, she played, unaccompanied, Brahms' famous "Lullaby," which she said has deep meaning for her family.
Nor was she finished. After the intermission, Barton Pine was joined by Chicago violist Lipman for Double Concerto for Violin and Viola, composed in 1932 by Benjamin Britten. He wrote it in his late teens and never fully completed it. The work was played in a 1999 by latter-day editors (which I find not fully convincing). It is a tentative bit of youthful experimentation, in which the two solo instruments play mostly in tight partnership.
Lipman's wonderfully rich tone put Barton Pine's lyricism to a strong test, and it seemed to me that Britten gave the viola some slight advantages, reminding us that he studied the viola himself in his early training. In all, though, this novelty is a curiosity rather than a serious component of Britten's legacy.
The encores were not over yet, though. Barton Pine and Lipman joined in a knockout rendering of Johan Halvorsen's arrangement of a Handel Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin and viola. But the conclusion came in a proper reversion to the 18th century, with the "Miracle Symphony" (No. 96 in D) from Haydn's "London" series. This composer's works bring out a special sympathy from Sewell, and he is right to treat such scores not as throwaway openers but as substantive closers. Not at all hampered by a string band of only 19 against a full wind complement, Sewell led a performance of robust color and strength.
In all, the concert was wonderful feast of a season opener.