VIVALDI: The Complete Viola d’Amore Concertos – Rachel Barton Pine, viola d’amore/ Ars Antigua – Cedille

A bold disc and stunning achievement.

VIVALDI: The Complete Viola d’Amore Concertos – Rachel Barton Pine, viola d’amore/ Ars Antigua – Cedille CDR 90000 159, 79:11 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

One should never be quick to assume, even in the case of talented and multifaceted artists like Rachel Barton Pine, a transfer to another, even related, instrument will be an automatic success. I remember years ago when viola players were astounded and much put off by the artistry of Pinchas Zukerman on “their” instrument, and there have been other cases of such transferal that were not as demonstrably reliable. Barton Pine has spent a lot of time over the years tinkering with various facets of the period performance genre, so she is no stranger to the type of performance we have here. But the viola d’amore, a tricky instrument born of the viol family with resonating strings yet played under the chin, is not an easy ticket, and Barton Pine has obviously spent a lot of practice time with it. It’s tone, and especially as she produces it, has a gossamer sweep to it, very articulate yet not particularly loud, which might have sounded the death knell for the thing before it ever really got started.

Indeed, there is no “school” for viola d’amore makers, each effort something of a unique and hit-or-miss effort. The instrument gradually faded from view, Vivaldi’s fascination to the contrary, and in the 20th century it was relegated to “saxophone” status, another instrument occasionally getting a showing in the orchestra or the miscellaneous chamber work. But Vivaldi’s eight concertos are substantial pieces, as good as anything he ever wrote, and quite charmed in their extremely diverse stylistic and technically divergent accommodations to the peculiarities of the instrument. The open strings and scordatura tuning made certain effects possible that were simply not available on a violin, and the red priest knew just how to take advantage of them.

Barton Pine’s brilliant virtuosity and breathless tonal production are nicely complemented by the fine folks of Ars Antigua, easily her match with her 1774 Nicola Gagliano twelve-string viola d’amore. Some will still “pine” away for the violin, and this instrument does have a different sound. But Pine will make you forget all about that quite quickly on this marvelous disc.

—Steven Ritter

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