Collegial Virtuosity from Rachel Barton Pine

United StatesUnited States Vivaldi, Telemann, Handel, and Pisendel: Rachel Barton Pine (director, violin, viola d’amore), Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Town Hall, Seattle, 18.1.2014 (BJ)

Vivaldi: Viola d’amore concertos: D major,
RV 392  D minor
RV 39; D minor
RV 395
Telemann: Trio Sonata in D major (arr. Pisendel)
Handel: Concerto grosso in G minor
HWV 324, Op. 6 No. 6
Pisendel: Violin Concerto in D major, JunP I.7.c


So just what is a concerto anyway?

We often see it described as a kind of battle between soloist and orchestra. But that simplistic view is applicable, if at all, only to the relatively unsubtle products of minor romantic composers—the Scharwenkas and Henselts of this world.

Even before Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms created their masterpieces, the concerto was exploring the relation between the individual and the collective, and it owes its popularity through several centuries to the irresistible fascination of that human phenomenon. In several 18th-century samples, the Early Music Guild’s SeattleTown Hall program on 18 January set Seattle Baroque Orchestra members beside soloist and guest director Rachel Barton Pine in an absorbing, and not at all simplistic, interplay.

What made this such a superb concert was the sense of creative collaboration in everything that happened on stage. Virtuosity—and there was a ton of that on display—seemed not competitive but collegial. Along with a trio sonata by Telemann, there were five concertos on the program. Three of them were for viola d’amore, a member of the viol family that was largely superseded in the classical period by the violin and its relatives.

Barton Pine’s pre-concert talk about the instrument proved to be characteristic of her ease and fluency in communicating with her listeners. Born in Chicago, and now in her late thirties, she is a formidable violinist, as her brilliant performance of a concerto by the relatively unknown Johann Georg Pisendel at the end of the evening bore out. Two years junior to Bach and Handel, Pisendel wrote in a lighter style, longer on charm than on musical complexity. His extended passages of instrumental bravura clearly had an enthusiastic audience on the edge of its seats.

By then, Barton Pine had demonstrated that, besides the tonal warmth enhanced by several strings that are not directly bowed but vibrate in sympathy with the main ones, the viola d’amore is capable of impressive virtuoso effects in its own right. All three of the works for the instrument were by Vivaldi. The finale of the one numbered 395 in Peter Ryom’s Vivaldi catalog offered particularly thrilling collaboration between the soloist and the highly talented orchestra players. (Readers interested in hearing the sound of the viola d’amore might like to explore on disc a concerto in which Vivaldi paired it with the lute: it has a slow movement more lyrically beautiful than anything in the more rhetorical manner of the three works the SBO performed.) As good a composer as Vivaldi was, however, the evening’s greatest music came from Handel, whose G-minor Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 6, was played with finely focused tone and rich expression.

Rachel Barton Pine is one of four guest directors appearing this season as part of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra’s search for a successor to founding directors Ingrid Matthews and Byron Schenkman, who have moved on to other activities. She certainly established her credentials, alike as player, director, and communicator, with this wholly delightful musical evening.

Bernard Jacobson