Monday, July 13, 2015

Rachel Barton Pine commands virtuosity good for any era; for Early Music Festival, she focuses on 17th and 18th centuries

The Indianapolis Early Music Festival wrapped up its 49th season this weekend with a focus on the solo and chamber-music artistry of Rachel Barton Pine.

Rachel Barton Pine
The violinist capped her engagement Sunday in the second of two weekend concerts at Indiana History Center. She had appeared with her Chicago-based early-Baroque ensemble, Trio Settecento, on Friday. Devoted to English music, that concert culminated in a generous representation of Henry Purcell, England's first great composer.

Late Sunday afternoon was a different story. There the emphasis shifted from the collegiality of songs and dances, artistically developed but settled in an undivided elite culture, to the era when concert life started taking on the trappings of publicity and self-conscious interest in professionalism began to take hold of the musical world.

An Italian long resident in Amsterdam, Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764) showed his superiority as a violinist among his contemporaries with the publication of "L'arte del violino" in 1733. This collection of 24 caprices tucked in among a dozen violin concertos foreshadowed Paganini's famous set — well-known locally from their required inclusion in International Violin Competition of Indianapolis programs.

Pine, with a chamber version of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra behind her, played the 12th of the set, "The Harmonic Labyrinth." Labyrinthine are the music's ways, indeed. The showcase for the soloist to ascend the heights of virtuosity is the caprice placed in each of the outer movements.

Attentive to the fleeting charm of the caprices' lyrical passages, Pine was clearly suited to the pieces' dazzle as well. She displayed solid control of the rapid figures. The patterns outlined a connect-the-dots kind of melody stitched together by feverish string-crossings. It was the kind of workout that, in baseball terms, brings the trainer with ice and massage to the aid of a hard-throwing relief pitcher in the locker room.

Sunday's audience shared in the astonishment Locatelli's contemporaries must have felt, for the caprices are clearly designed to wow audiences. The structure of the concerto (like its companions in "L'arte del violino") is inviting: As soon as the accompaniment drops out in the first and third movements, you know you're in for a solo spectacle. That's what Pine delivered, shoving to the side my nagging doubts about the musical value of excessive display. The caprices embedded in this concerto, at any rate, indicate that Locatelli's imagination rarely rose in this genre to his successor Paganini's level.

In the program's first half, Pine and the IBO, led by concertmaster Alison Edberg, featured concertos by Antonio Vivaldi for the viola d'amore. The charming instrument, more mellow than the violin, was generously exhibited in this program. Pine has become a devoted specialist on this instrument, using a viola d'amore made by Nicola Gagliano in 1774, four years after he made the violin Pine played in this concert.

The guest soloist worked well with the IBO in music with a variety of texture, sparkle and elan. The layout of mood and texture is structurally satisfying in each. Stateliness, gentle pathos, and buoyancy are exhibited across the three-movement structure. These were glowing performances, marred slightly by tuning difficulties in the opening Allegro of one of them, corrected before the second movement, fortunately.

To give Pine a little time offstage, in the first half the IBO played music by another violin virtuoso composer, Johann Georg Pisendel: a suite of attractive dances, segueing without pause, culminating in a zesty Presto Concertino. After intermission, and before the athletic rigors of the Locatelli, the IBO performed the striking Concerto for Strings in C major, whose sprightliness is moderated by the elegantly drooping line of the concluding Chaconne. On its own, the city's baroque orchestra confirmed how able it is to share the stage with a major early-music star like Pine.