Listen New Classical Tracks: Rachel Barton Pine
Listen New Classical Tracks: Rachel Barton Pine (extended)
Rachel Barton Pine Elgar/Bruch: Violin Concertos; Andrew Litton and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Avie)
Rachel Barton Pine was 11 when she first performed Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She has performed it many times since then, and now, 32 years later, she's recording this work for the first time. It's paired with an unlikely partner, Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto.
She says it all goes back to an album that she loved growing up featuring the legendary Yehudi Menuhin, who recorded both works early in his career. In her mind, they've always been a perfect match.
"Of the standard romantic concerti, the Bruch is pretty much the shortest and the Elgar is pretty much the longest, so that always had them live together in my mind for that reason," Pine says. "But more importantly, somehow both the Bruch and Elgar are very human. They're intimate, they're passionate and there's a certain sound that I look for in each, which is very lush and rich and warm. And so even though they were written 40 years apart in different countries, I felt like somehow it worked to put them together."
The Bruch is the first major Romantic concerto that you learned, and you were just 8. Do you remember what you thought of this work when you were that young?
"I'd been listening to it for a while, and as a student coming up, as is normal, I'd played some student concertos, and then it was time for my first grownup Romantic concerto. Sometimes kids do Mendelssohn's First, and then they do Bruch's First. So, I was given the Bruch, and I got to start my my lifetime journey with it, and I absolutely loved the music."
This recording is dedicated to the late Sir Neville Marriner, who died suddenly in 2016 at 92.
"The interesting thing is this was going to be Sir Neville Marriner's first recording of the Elgar. He was going to do this album with me. We had previously recorded the complete Mozart concertos together a few years ago and were planning to reunite for these two concertos. When he was a young violinist, Sir Neville had studied the Elgar with his teacher, Billy Reed, the great London concertmaster who had been the very violinist that Elgar consulted while writing the piece.
"Sadly, he passed away right before the session, and so I was like, 'Oh, no, what are we going to do?' But thankfully Andrew Litton was able to step in, and I am so grateful that he did such a wonderful job, and it really worked out well."
I was curious about the stories that Marriner was able to share with you or what you learned from him.
"Yeah, well definitely, the fun stories like: Elgar would invite Billy Reed over to his house, and he would have different versions of the same passage taped on the walls and sitting on the backs of chairs and up on the mantel piece. Billy Reed would walk around the room trying all the different versions. Elgar would be all excited and talking about which option he liked best, and Billy Reed would suggest options that Elgar hadn't even thought of, until they hit upon just the right one."
Elgar was a violinist; he knew what the violin was capable of. Does that sometimes make it more challenging?
"Elgar writes very idiomatically for the instrument, but that doesn't mean it's easy. So it all works. But some of it is very, very demanding, and I think it's actually one of the hardest concertos just to play the notes, not even getting into how difficult it is to make music, having a musical arc to the whole 50-minute extravaganza."
You noted 89 technical spots that you'd have to practice over and over. How did you power through that, and how did you eventually internalize it so you can make this work your own and share the poetry?
"This concerto is a big, big project but so worth it. There are very interesting moments. In the last movement, for example, just when you think the movement's about to end, Elgar veers off course and he has an entire five-minute cadenza. But it's not an unaccompanied cadenza; it's fully written out and it's also accompanied by the orchestra. He created this kind of strumming effect with the violinists while the string players of the orchestra play their strings in this plucky kind of way. Nobody had ever thought to do that before him, and this effect was actually inspired by the wind chimes hanging over the door at his summer home."
To hear more about the Bruch and Elgar works, and the American female violinist who inspires everything Pine does, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
ResourcesRachel Barton Pine (official site)
Rachel Barton Pine Elgar/Bruch: Violin Concertos (Avie Records site)
Rachel Barton Pine Elgar/Bruch: Violin Concertos (Amazon)