MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; SCHUMANN: Violin Concerto in D Minor; BEETHOVEN: Romance No. 1 in G Major, Op. 40; Romance No. 2 in F Major, Op. 50 – Rachel Barton Pine, violin/ Goettinger Sym. Orch./ Christoph-Mathias Mueller – Cedille CDR 900000 144, 71:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine joins the select few artists who find –as had Menuhin, Kulenkampff, Ricci, and Szerying – value in Robert Schumann’s 1854 Violin Concerto, which its dedicatee Joseph Joachim had consigned to obscurity for seventy-five years. In this sympathetic recording (28-30 August 2012) Pine applies her significant technique and lustrous tone of her 1742 Guarneri del Gesu instrument to realize a work that came to her via the ardent ministrations of her conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller. The through-composed Concerto casts a decidedly Baroque character, having been cut out of one emotional cloth, as it were.
Occasional color moments occur, sometimes from the clarinet and oboe, from the principal cellist, and from the tympani. But the prevailing mood, dark and maestoso, rarely permits much light but rather wistful nostalgia. Pine’s performance has its tender allure, much in the manner of Menuhin’s classic account with Barbirolli from New York in 1938. The first movement several times alludes to the Beethoven Ninth and Bach Chaconne, each in the same D Minor mode. The second movement testifies to the fragility of the composer’s spirit, especially as his mental state deteriorated. The perennial challenge to the performers lies in the ungainly polonaise that constitutes the last movement, marked Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell, which if played in tempo renders the figures stodgy. Pine and Mueller assume a leisurely, dance-like gait that does not punish the soloist, who must execute demanding figurations. Those moments in which the violin weaves harmoniously with the drooping figures in the orchestra become quite valedictory in character, true orisons of and to Schumann’s pure spirit.
The genial spirits of the two Beethoven Romances (1803, 1805) Pine and Mueller preserve affectionately, a tender balance between concert hall and salon proportions. Pine informs us in her annotations that her producer Steve Epstein suggested the Beethoven works as filler for the Mendelssohn and Schumann concertos when their recording schedule concluded ahead of schedule. Pine’s playing in the F Major Romance exerts more girth than in the G Major predecessor, an indication that Beethoven had already begun thinking in the grander terms that culminate in his mighty D Major Concerto. The F Major Romance, too, has its moment of sturm und drang, but its bucolic sentiments dominate in stately repose.
For the well-familiar Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, Pine explicitly states that she wished to achieve “a balance between warmth and tasteful purity,” refined by deliberately flowing rather than expansive tempos. The approach proves energetic and brisk, marked by a temperate rubato and light feet. The model may well be Nathan Milstein’s various explorations of the score, especially his account with Abbado late in his recording career. The performance has polish and resonance, but few revelations of character. Lyrical facility stands as the enduring epithet here, and Mendelssohn himself would likely eschew any metaphysics in this work, in which beauty of expression remains foremost.