Violinist Pine gives Bologne concerto sterling advocacy with IPO

Wed Feb 23, 2022 at 1:21 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Rachel Barton Pine performed Joseph Bologne’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night in Palos Heights.

[Note: The posting of this review was delayed due to technical issues.]

In the current era when presenters and orchestras everywhere are knocking over music stands to perform music by black composers, it bears noting that Rachel Barton Pine was doing dedicated work exhuming many of these neglected scores before it became cool or professionally expedient.

The Chicago-based violinist released a disc 25 years ago that revived violin concertos by four black composers. She has remained a tireless advocate ever since with subsequent recordings and, through her foundation, making sheet music of these works available and publishing educational material for young students on black composers.

For these efforts as well as her distinguished performing career, Pine was awarded the Ruth D. And Ken M. Davee Excellence in the Arts Award at the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra concert Saturday night at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.

It was fitting that the concert’s main event was Pine’s performance of Joseph Bologne’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in A major, Op. 5, no. 2. To give some idea of how far and quickly the French-Sengalese composer’s star has risen, on the very same evening Music of the Baroque was presenting a musico-theatrical evening devoted to Bologne, aka, the “Chevalier de Saint-Georges.”

Bologne’s A-major Concerto was the prize of Pine’s 1997 survey of concertos by black composers, and Saturday night’s performance with Stilian Kirov and the IPO showed her assimilation of his music has become more natural and deepened with the years.

Pine’s playing along with the orchestra’s extended introduction took some edge off her eventual entrance but the violinist quickly showed herself fully at home in Bologne’s galant style. This engaging concerto may not be quite as indelible or brilliant in its working out as Mozart, but Bologne’s energy and melodic charm provided their own ample rewards. 

A couple fractional hesitations on position changes apart, Pine provided sterling advocacy throughout. The violinist brought a flickering vibrato to Bologne’s stately theme in the slow movement and threw off the bursts of dizzying fireworks in the Rondeau finale with fizzing speed and virtuosity. Kirov and the IPO were fully simpatico partners throughout.

The ebullient soloist offered a Bologne bonus as an encore—the final movement of his Sonata No. 4 for Two Violins. Pine was joined by her friend, IPO member Caitlin Edwards, and the pair made a nimble and engaging duo in this effervescent music.

The evening led off with music by another black composer, Mother and Child by William Grant Still. Kirov led the IPO in a warm-hearted reading of this lyrical ode. If the piece—originally the middle movement of Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano—is a bit extended for its substance, Kirov and colleagues surely conveyed the folk-flavored charm.

Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 concluded the program.

Kirov led his musicians in the kind of performance that has become characteristic of the conductor’s IPO tenure: incisive yet flexible direction with ideally judged tempos, firm momentum and strong impact to dramatic high points.

The celebrated English horn solo in the Largo could have used more nuanced expression but Kirov’s alert dynamic detailing made up the balance. There were fleeting lapses elsewhere, but most of the playing was polished and committed throughout, a testament to the close artistic rapport between the IPO members and their music director. The performance culminated in a notably tough and vigorous account of the finale with Kirov and colleagues deftly holding the extended final chord.

Stilian Kirov conducts the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Ravel’s Mother Goose and Michael Abels’ Frederick’s Fables, 3 p.m. March 12 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.

Posted in Performances

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