Rachel Barton Pine / Christoph-Mathias Mueller

Mendelssohn & Schumann: Violin Concertos; Beethoven: Romances

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This recording by Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine has no right to work as well as it does. Funded through Kickstarter, it features the mid-level Göttinger Symphonie Orchester from Germany, and Pine takes on one of the absolute warhorses of the repertory, the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, of Felix Mendelssohn. How could she have anything to add? As it happens, her performance of the Mendelssohn is startlingly good and merits consideration from anybody at all looking for a recording of the work. Her differentiation between the themes of the opening movement is very strong, with the second subject forming its own island of repose within the movement. And her finale is a romping joy: she says that she first played the work as a neophyte in a family concert devoted to the Wild West, and you can still hear a vigorous fiddling quality in her reading. Also worthwhile is the still rarely performed Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO 23, of Robert Schumann. This work was suppressed after Schumann's death because it was thought to be too difficult to perform. Pine has an interesting angle on this. She reasons that the dedicatee of the work, Joseph Joachim, would have worked with him on revisions of the work, as he later did with Brahms on the latter's violin concerto, had not Schumann been suddenly incapacitated by mental illness. So she modifies the violin line. You can argue about this, but the changes do allow her to take the finale at a faster tempo than in most other recordings. And she keeps control over the large structure of the first movement, whose form is not easy to define. The two Beethoven Romances show Pine's capacity for simple lyrical lines, and the high quality of the recording as a whole is a quite unexpected surprise.

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