Barton Pine shines in Newberry Consort feast of violin rarities

Sat Mar 20, 2010 at 12:22 pm

By Gerald Fisher

A program of violin rarities was performed with rare excellence by three of the best early-music musicians in the business Friday night. With Rachel Barton Pine, David Douglass and David Schrader giving their all to some challenging early-17th century English and Italian showpieces, the Newberry Consort’s offering at Fourth Presbyterian Church was a florid feast for violin aficionados.

The three artists were performing together for the first time and appeared to be drawing strength from each other as they tackled the wicked technical demands of music from the beginning of the modern period of solo instrumental practice.

The program was divided in half with the first part devoted to music from England that represented a looking backward to the earlier polyphonic style of performance while presenting forays into the new sound world of basso continuo underpinnings and dissonant harmonics.

This new world (the seconda pratica, as it was called) was fully present in selections from pioneering Italian violin music by some shadowy composers who deserve to be better known.

The English set was distinguished by music by William Byrd (sophisticated variations on the familiar song O Mistress Mine played on the harpsichord with deadpan aplomb by David Schrader) and John Dowland (a pavane transcription for two violins and chordal bass).

The well-known La Folia theme, so over-used in the centuries to come was played as Faronell’s Ground in a duo-violin version prepared by Consort director Douglass which allowed each of the three artists to shine individually as well as together.

The real discovery of the evening was Thomas Baltzar, a German composer briefly active in England in the mid-seventeenth century. Baltzar wrote and performed influential virtuoso violin music, and his John Come Kiss Me Now with a wealth of double-stops, trills and other demands was polished off by Pine in fine style.

The Italians, brilliantly looking forward to the world of Corelli were represented by two composers: Marco Uccellini, a little-known but significant violinist and composer; and Biagio Marini, better represented these days in recordings with original and striking compositions and Tarquinio Merula, whose A Gran Battaglia foreshadows the famous Battalia by Biber.

All three of the evening’s artists gave impressive performances but the majestically dominant Rachel Pine, projected an idiomatic command of a style quite removed from the glossy calisthenics of today’s virtuosi. She has performed this type of music for most of her career and seems as much at home with the period conventions as any specialist – while demonstrating a clear understanding of the shape and meaning of these beautiful artifacts from another time.

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