RACHEL BARTON PINE (b 1974 )
Three-year-old Rachel Barton was struck by ‘older girls in beautiful dresses who were playing violin at church’ and begged her parents for a violin. ‘Initially, it was the sound of it I loved,’ she recalls. ‘Its voice spoke to me as if this were preordained somehow. By age five, I knew this is what my life would be about.’ She was educated at home, able to devote eight hours a day to practising. Taught by Roland and Almita Vamos, Ruben Gonzalez, Werner Scholz, Elmira Darvarova and several specialists in early music performance practice, she benefitted from a rigorous and intensive programme of study. At ten she made appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a number of television broadcasts. She was the youngest person (at seventeen) and first American to win a gold medal at the J.S. Bach International Competition, Leipzig, also winning top prizes in the Szigeti, Paganini, Queen Elisabeth, Kreisler, and Montreal International Violin Competitions. In 1996 she was an Olympic torchbearer and appeared as a soloist at the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Atlanta.
Barton Pine professes a passion for guiding the future of music: accordingly she has undertaken much work with young people and has served on the boards of various schools including the Music Institute of Chicago. She recently received the prestigious Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for her work in music education.
Her life has not been without its setbacks and drama. On 16 January 1995 her violin case strap became caught in the doors of a train. Having first been dragged more than three hundred feet along the platform she then fell under the wheels of the train, severing one leg and seriously injuring the other (the violin, miraculously, was unscathed). Saved by prompt-acting passengers, she was astonishingly able to rebuild her solo career after a two-year gap for recovery.
Barton Pine’s playing is at once suggestive of that of many great American virtuosi of the latter half of the twentieth century, tapping into a rich vein of pedagogy. The results—in security of technique, left-hand agility and complete mastery of all of the bowing styles demanded by the repertory selected here—are impressive, and her playing has a sense of spacious self-assurance, allied to an extremely rich tone, heavily reliant upon a very warm and wide vibrato. What distinguishes Barton Pine from some others, apart from her superlative basic skills, is her interest in lesser-known repertory and historically-informed performing practices. Her 2008 disc of concertos by Beethoven and Clement is an intelligent and interesting pairing, the almost-forgotten Clement having been published shortly before the enduring Beethoven. In a similar vein she marries the Brahms and Joachim (Op. 11) concertos on a 2003 Grammy®-nominated disc; this pairing prompts listeners to appraise the claims of Joachim’s biographer Andreas Moser that Joachim exerted a profound influence upon Brahms’s compositional techniques and orchestration. Adding further interest, Barton performs the works on a violin previously owned by Joachim pupil Marie Soldat-Röger. It must be said, though, that audible references to nineteenth-century playing style are conspicuously lacking in all these performances, the only real concession being restraint in application of vibrato in the Clement work.
Similarly, the two miniatures by Amy Beach and Henry Huss selected here from Barton’s 2007 Tribute to Maud Powell disc evidence few discernible characteristics of Powell’s own playing (the title is appropriate to choice of repertoire), whilst Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella (from Barton Pine’s 1994 début recording) is equally conventional, if convincingly played. What is certain, however, is that her playing is always warm, rich and vibrant—this at least is in the spirit of the nineteenth century—and she is a fine representative of the top rank of today’s virtuoso performers.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)