Music for unaccompanied violin by Bach and his predecessors – includes Bach’s Chaconne and Biber’s Passacaglia
Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001
Westhoff: Suite II
Bach: Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
CEDILLE RECORDS: CDR 90000 078
RACHEL BARTON PINE, BAROQUE VIOLIN
(NICOLA GAGLIANO, 1770)
To the memory of Sam Hill, who first invited me to worship God with the music of Bach.
Producers: Rachel Barton Pine, Gregory Pine, James Ginsburg
Engineer: Bill Maylone
Graphic Design: Melanie Germond, Pete Goldlust
Cover Photo: Andrew Eccles
Recorded: January 29-30 and February 1, 2004, at WFMT Chicago
Microphones: Schoeps MK21 and Neumann KM184
Luthier (violin technician): Whitney Osterud
Rachel would especially like to thank the following people:
Joan and Michael Pine
Lee Newcomer and Performer’s Music
The staff of the Newberry Library
John Mark Rozendaal
Almita and Roland Vamos
William Harris Lee and Company
Everyone at Kirshbaum Demler & Associates, Inc.
The music of Bach has a special place in my heart. I grew up in a liberal Protestant United Church of Christ congregation whose motto was “Making a Joyful Sound in the City.” The sanctuary included Bach among the many religious figures featured in its stained glass windows. In this setting, I first encountered his glorious music. Our organist/choirmaster, Sam Hill, would often play a Bach Toccata and Fugue as the prelude or lead the choir in a movement from a Bach Oratorio as an anthem. When I was four years old, Sam invited me to perform in public for the first time. I played a Bach Minuet during a worship service. Throughout the remainder of my student years, I frequently performed Bach’s music in my church. Playing his music is always a spiritual experience for me.
Bach’s sense of faith was deep and central to his being. He signed his manuscripts “Soli deo Gloria,” to the glory of God. Musicologist Helga Theone has recently suggested that Christian symbolism, mathematic and thematic, is hidden both in individual movements and in the set of Six Sonatas and Partitas as a whole. While fascinating, the argument is ultimately academic. Bach recognized that his musical talents were a gift from God and he employed them in God’s service. I believe that Bach’s spirituality is inseparable from his music, whether sacred or secular.
While browsing in a local sheet music store at the age of 14, I discovered an edition of the Corelli Sonatas with “Corelli’s own ornamentation” as notated by an audience member. Fascinated by the implications, I sought out an early-music specialist to learn more. I studied the important primary and secondary sources on baroque performance practice, including Geminiani, Quantz, C.P.E. Bach, and Boyden. I began using a baroque bow, exploring historically informed phrasing and articulation, and writing my own ornamentation. Over the years, I have sought out opportunities to discuss, read, and occasionally perform early music with experts including Sigiswald Kuijken, Anner Bylsma, Marilyn McDonald, David Douglass, Elizabeth Wright, John Mark Rozendaal, and David Schrader. My ideas about the sound, phrasing, and interpretation of baroque repertoire have evolved dramatically over the past fifteen years. On this recording, I have attempted to capture my most recent thoughts about and understanding of the music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
My fascination with research and with deserving yet underperformed repertoire led me to investigate unusual unaccompanied baroque repertoire for the violin. My music collection quickly expanded to include Telemann’s Fantasies, Playford’s Division Violin, Mateis’s Ayrs, and Roman’s Assaggi. I became especially intrigued by the Westhoff Suites as obvious precursors to Bach. The Biber Passacaglia and Pisendel Sonata became part of my rotating recital repertoire.
In 1999, I was invited to give a performance of Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas, along with pieces for unaccompanied violin that preceded them, in a marathon recital at Oberlin Conservatory. I chose to include the Biber, the Pisendel, and a Westhoff Suite. Studying these works simultaneously taught me a great deal about the traditions from which Bach emerged and how he transcended them. For this recording, I included Bach’s first Sonata as the closest link to the pieces that preceded it. I chose the D Minor Partita to highlight the connection between Bach’s Ciaccona and Biber’s Passacaglia. I hope that you will enjoy reacquainting yourself with Bach’s genius in the context of several baroque masterpieces with which you may not yet be familiar.
“A most accomplished Baroque violinist, fully the equal of the foremost specialists. Her fine tone is capable of sounding expressive without reliance on vibrato… The playing is remarkably clean, pure and stylish; I particularly admired her chord playing in the Westhoff, a densely polyphonic piece that’s made to sound entirely poised and natural… Throughout the recital she demonstrates an acute rhythmic sense, allowing flexibility while retaining the character of all the dance movements. And there’s a highly developed feeling for musical form; the confident way she leads us through to the climactic moments of the two long variation pieces (Biber and the Bach Chaconne) makes for unusually satisfying performances.”
A January 2005 Strad Selection
“Pine brings to [Biber’s Passacaglia] a gentleness and occasional brilliance, teasing out its long, mournful lines, which so often threaten to fade into nothingness. Westhoff’s Suite, by contrast, is quite a jolly affair, a four-movement set, all of it eminently danceable. Pine is alive to its springing rhythms and attractive melodies, and takes its multiple-stopping challenges in her stride… Pine plays [Pisendel’s Sonata] with astonishing clarity and articulation. Bach works bracket the disc and she performs them with mature authority and a sure touch for drawing out and shaping contrapuntal lines. The final Chaconne is wonderfully shaped and fluent. This is a fascinating CD, with Pine consistently drawing great things from her 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin.”
“Pine delivers one of the most appealing baroque violin tones I’ve ever heard… She shows extraordinary mastery of ornamentation and obviously has worked out the most subtle expressive mannerisms with great care–a gently dying end of phrase, a momentary, impassioned surge of tempo, for instance. And she surely knows how to put the fire to a Presto, giving a fine point to each attack with no scraping or scratching–and never sounding frantic… Pine’s rendition of the Partita shows her…grip not only on the linear and harmonic details but on how to illuminate the larger structures, particularly in the famous Chaconne.
It’s the Pisendel Sonata in A minor that emerges as the program’s highlight. The opening Largo sings with brilliant voice, passionately pleading, then fluttering off high into the air, and Pine creates a delightful little drama that leads directly to a catchy Allegro, whose signature is a jumpy little rhythmic figure that Pine fully exploits. The closing Giga is a snazzy dance full of virtuosic delights (and pitfalls), and again Pine seems to be having nothing but great fun with this charming, eminently listenable work. The Biber Passacaglia is another challenging and substantial piece that’s heard all too rarely–and here Pine is at her most captivating, controlling the myriad expressive aspects with theatrical flair while showing off her violin’s tonal beauty and range.
This is a first-rate recital–ideally recorded–that shows an extraordinary young artist at work, offering insights and interpretations that welcome repeated listening and signal a major career in progress.”
“The clarity of the presentation is quite special. Rachel Barton Pine is a musician who can grasp a composer’s flash of inspiration in a work and boil it down to performance. She has given each of the pieces on the disc, whether one or five movements, its own character and articulation. The Partita 2 is poised and thoughtful, with a meditative chaconne. The Biber passacaglia, on the other hand, is dramatic almost to excess, which is exactly right for this very theatrical composer. Westhoff’s Suite in A Major is one glittering third after another, like a string of pearls. With Pisendel’s sonata, Pine delights us with the wizardry of the composer, more than her own technique (which is nonetheless astonishing). Every phrase is individually constructed, and the piece comes across as a real masterwork.”
Early Music America
“This disc should solidify her reputation as one of our best players of Baroque violin music. Using an unaltered 1770 Gagliano violin, which she chose for its sound, she gives us two of Bach’s major violin works (Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 2) in superbly musical and sensible performances. The famous Chaconne, for example, has magnificent drama without any grandiosity… This is an illuminating release which will add something unique even to a record collection already blessed with good recordings of the Bach works.”
“Mainstream violinists used to play Baroque music out of a sense of duty, but Rachel Barton Pine clearly does it out of love… There’s nothing romanticized about her approach, which is full of properly sighing phrases and expert ornamentation… Pine is especially effective in the introspective movements. She also has fun with the faster material, especially the gigues that swing (in Bach) and twitter (in Pisendel)…She clearly understands that many of these movements must dance, yet she’s at her best when she helps the music sing.”
“Pine’s playing has a nice balance of formality and spontaneity. She brings out the dancey quality that exists at the heart of many of the movements. The CD winds up with the chaconne of the D minor partita, an amazing combination of spiritual depth and intellectual vitality.”
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
“These are definitely not pretty miniature baroque violin performances. They are most vital, often snarling with an energy not often thought of as baroque. All are performed with great panache and commitment by Rachel Barton Pine, winner of the 1992 J.S. Bach International Violin Competition. The violin sound is immediate and tangible – such that the fingerings, particularly the double stops, communicate the spontaneity and vitality inherent within these baroque masterpieces. Here is exciting music most ably performed and recorded. Highly recommended!”
“None of this scholarship would be of much value if the performances were not of such great musicality and clarity. Pine plays with a powerful tone, and obviously has the technique to attack the most difficult moments in these many pieces without one hearing hesitation or struggle. But above this accomplishment one also is left with the exhilaration of great music given brilliant realizations.”
Home News Tribune (New Jersey)
“She illuminates these [works] from within with a lively intelligence… For example, she clarifies the voice leading even in the heaviest chordal sections of the fugue of Bach’s G-Minor sonata and makes slight ritards to mark pivotal melodic notes in the final metrically kaleidoscopic Presto, adding unobtrusive accentuations to point up that movement’s longer-breathed ascending and descending patterns…. Pine raises Biber’s Passacaglia well above the level of either contrapuntal exercise or violinistic display (although it – and her reading of it – undeniably make a brilliant effect)… Pisendel’s Sonata offers more in the way of Italianate virtuosity – running passages in the higher positions and the relief of monody with fewer hidden meanings. Pine’s crisp articulation and rhythmic élan make these passages sparkle as though set with brilliant stones… Pine holds the listener’s attention (as did the later Milstein) while never indulging eccentricity. Her reading of the Chaconne brings out similarities in its swirling figuration to that of Biber’s Passacaglia… Although these styles display neither wide geographic nor chronological diversity, Pine manages to differentiate them, at the same time revealing the nuclear fusion of their stylistic threads that Bach’s sonatas and partitas represent: she creates melodic interest in the polyphony and polyphonic interest in their melody.”
“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. Pine effectively transfers that improvisatory quality to Bach’s music, and she holds the listener’s interest over the course of the entire recording… Pine accomplishes her bold goals here, and keeps her rising star on its trajectory.”
All Music Guide
Fine playing of solo baroque violin with amazing counter melodies achieved by remarkable technique. Superb! –magritte (Amazon.com customer)