Rachel Barton Pine

Solo Baroque

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Rachel Barton Pine, a young violinist who has made headlines by trying to attract audiences unfamiliar with classical music, now makes a splash of a different kind: she ventures into the field of historical performance with an ambitious disc combining some of Bach's solo violin music with similar contemporary or slightly older works by other composers. Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001, opens the proceedings; Barton Pine argues in her lengthy notes (which range all the way from her girlhood experiences playing the violin in a Chicago church to detailed historical exegeses) that this piece most clearly shows Bach's links to the solo violin tradition in which he worked. The disc ends with the Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, and its massive Chaconne movement. In between are works by Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705), Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), and Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755). The Biber Passacaglia that concludes his set of "Rosary" sonatas seems closest to Bach's uncanny way of pushing technical extremity over some kind of strange border into spiritual ecstasy. Bach probably did not know Biber's work, but he is likely to have been familiar with the Westhoff Suite II in A major and the Sonata in A minor by Pisendel, concertmaster of the virtuoso orchestra at the Dresden court. True, the disc makes one see how far above these minor composers Bach stood. But it also demonstrates how Bach artfully combined strands of the music he knew. Westhoff's piece is full of study-like complications, including a succession of double stops lasting for several minutes in its first movement; Pisendel's piece is flashy, with sharp harmonic shifts and a strong semi-improvisatory feel. Barton Pine effectively transfers that improvisatory quality to Bach's music, and she holds the listener's interest over the course of the entire recording. Only the final Chaconne disappoints somewhat; Barton Pine seems so intent on displaying the contrapuntal abilities of her never-reconstructed 1770 violin that she doesn't quite generate the sheer fire that this movement demands. But there are many other versions of that Chaconne available -- and few other choices if one wants to understand Bach's remarkable works in the context of a tradition. Barton Pine accomplishes her bold goals here, and keeps her rising star on its trajectory.

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