Friday, December 20, 2013

Rachel Barton Pine, Wendy Warner, and Jennifer Koh release top-flight discs on Chicago's Cedille label

As the father of two sons whose musical training included childhood participation in the Chicago Suzuki Institute, I'm somewhat acquainted with the impressive achievements of string instrumentalists emerging with formative training from "the Second City."

Three young star-quality women, string players with Chicago roots, have recent recordings on
Cedille Records, an excellent classical label based in their hometown. All of them indicate that the high standard of technical aplomb can be made special with a superior level of insight and feeling.

Rachel Barton Pine
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine is heard in solo works with orchestra by Beethoven, Schumann and Mendelssohn, and enjoys the sympathetic partnership of the Goettingen Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Christoph-Mathias Mueller (CDR 90000 144). As her notes in the booklet indicate, she is particularly eager to make a good case for the Schumann Violin Concerto in D minor. And with sympathetic assistance from Mueller and his German orchestra, she does: The tuttis are well-balanced and vigorous, and the variety of expression in the solo part is keenly matched by the accompaniment.

The soloist has new things to say about a much less problematic concerto — the Mendelssohn in E minor. Her smooth statement of the first-movement theme is unusually mellow, but never lacking in energy. In the second movement, there is a subtle forward motion and less "wallowing" in the tender mood than in some interpretations; the finale is unbelievably fleet and well-coordinated.
Wendy Warner

Filling out the disc are strongly characterized renditions of Beethoven's two Romances for violin and orchestra. Even this straightforward music brings out a heightened rapport between orchestra and soloist, making this disc from stem to stern something special among current violin-concerto CDs.

Wendy Warner, a cellist with an aggressive but hardly coarse approach, brings to wider public acquaintance the music of Josef Myslivecek, a slightly younger contemporary of Haydn, whose two concertos flank the Czech composer's concerto (CDR 90000 142).

The novelty first: Myslivecek's Concerto in C is an arrangement of a violin concerto that sounds so right on the cello, particularly with the kind of deep-rooted lyricism that pervades the second movement.  It's easier to see the suitability for the original instrument in the brisk, high-register finale, but Warner has the agility to make the music sound natural on the cello. The work has a "style galant" flair that makes it an attractive disc-mate contrast to the more widely ranging Haydn works.

The estimable Camerata Chicago, conducted by Drostan Hall, is Warner's partner in all three works.
Not to scant the charms of the Myslivecek or to slight the Haydn D major, I was most impressed by  the performance of Haydn C major. In this piece, the creamy tone of the ensemble is also crisply articulated  and as assertive as Warner's cello.  The orchestra sets up the solo nicely with sostenuto playing in the second movement. Echo and quasi-echo phrases are handled well; they don't threaten to vanish. The concluding "Allegro molto" movement is quite fast and perky, with the soloist digging in but managing logical dynamic shifts quite nimbly.
Jennifer Koh

Finally, there is Chicago native Jennifer Koh in a modern violin-piano recital with Shai Wosner carrying the title "Signs, Games + Messages" (CDR 90000 143).  The asperity and conciseness of Leo Janacek's Sonata in four movements opens the disc. The Koh-Wosner partnership plays with witty elan, fully projecting those quirky rhetorical, speech-based touches so characteristic of Janacek. The Janacek is balanced in its august genre of violin-piano sonatas by Bartok's First Sonata. The Hungarian's work is expansive, almost prolix, but has so many cogent things to say it well deserves its 35-minute span, particularly as played by Wosner and Koh.

In between come a baker's dozen of pieces by the contemporary Hungarian Gyorgy Kurtag. They are disparate in their expressive profile and in how variously they use the violin-piano medium for statements in miniature — so much so that summarizing the selections is nearly impossible. I liked best the works that allowed for fuller acquaintance with Kurtag's shape-shifting manner: "Tre Pezzi"  and "In Nomine — all'ongherese."