“Testament” = BACH: Complete Sonatas and Partitas – Rachel Barton Pine, v. – Avie – 2 CDs

Rachel Barton Pine finally gives us the whole enchilada, and a fine feast it is.

“Testament” = BACH: Complete Sonatas and Partitas – Rachel Barton Pine, violin – Avie AV2360 (2 CDs), 125:34 *****:

I was a little surprised to see Rachel Barton Pine for the second time on the Avie label (the first was Mozart concertos), but a quick note from the artist confirmed her absolute commitment—indeed, entrenchment—in the Cedille universe. Avie, of course, operates on an artist-ownership model, and has released some truly spectacular recordings since their inception in 2002.

Count this among them.  Rachel Barton Pine has been playing these pieces for years, often all in one evening, and decided that the time had come to put her thoughts on the music down on silver disc. It is indeed a “testament” to her own judgment that she waited as long as she did in order to have a comprehensive and integral sense of what her vision is all about. Barton Pine is no stranger to period performance and theory, having released a number of recordings precisely employing these techniques, but here she manages a hybrid approach, using her standard Guarneri del Gesu violin with a baroque bow. Period influence is there, but surprisingly does not dominate, as she manipulates her instrument according to the needs of the moment, and the emotional content of the movement. According to her liner notes, this decision was based on the practicality of including one of the Sonatas or Partitas on a “regular” concert and not being able to cart several violins along with her.

Whatever the reasoning, the results are quite stirring. She gets a beautifully warm and burnished tone, lots of resonance, and stunning articulation. The playing is emotive yet controlled; hers is a performance of piety that respects the text, revers the devotion implicit in the music and the intent behind it, and approaches the work as one would time spent in a church. There are many recent recordings of these pieces, many superb, but this holds its own against any of them.

My choice to this point has been the marvelous SACD set from Lara St. John, and it still holds its own. But that hyper-emotional and splendidly executed set is miles away from this one in temperament, an exceedingly personal and heart-on-sleeve execution versus Barton Pine’s highly devotional and reverent reading, yet seething with palpable, completely meticulous passion. I don’t want to be without either, and they easily top the must-have lists in this music.

I’ve been waiting for Barton Pine to release these for quite a while, and it has been worth the wait.

—Steven Ritter

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