A History of Violins

Friday, February 24, 2006

The audience at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Wednesday time- traveled back more than 100 years with violinist Rachel Barton Pine as she paid tribute to 19th-century classical-music pioneer Maud Powell. A talented violinist, Powell toured worldwide, popularized recitals in the United States and premiered a slew of important music.

Pine displays a power and confidence that puts her in the top echelon of recitalists. Taking broad artistic license, she stacked movements of violin concertos by Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius (each of which was premiered by Powell in the United States) into a sort of meta-concerto medley. Channeling the spirit of Powell, she played Dvorak with fire and passion, handled the slow movement of Tchaikovsky with pathos and gave Sibelius a sensational twist. Accompanist Matthew Hagle played sensitively in lyrical sections, though the weight of the entire orchestral score was sometimes too much for his piano.

The rich tone of Pine's Guarneri violin enhanced beautiful melodies by Amy Beach and Marion Bauer and the earthy tunes in Powell's arrangement of "Deep River" by African-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

"Caprice on Dixie" by Herman Bellstedt Jr. was a Paganini-style tour de force for unaccompanied violin. Pine's fingers flew up and down with impressive slides and jumps that had the audience chuckling in delight, the performance climaxing with an impossibly fast flourish.

Pine is an excellent communicator with her instrument. And it's a good thing, because her patter about Powell's life, though informative and enlightening, was recited from her notes as a schoolteacher might. Despite the canned narration, it was great to have insight into the life of this remarkable woman.

--Gail Wein

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