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Trio Settecento at Dumbarton Oaks

Trio Settecento:
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A German Bouquet

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An Italian Sojourn
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We have been admirers of the playing of violinist Rachel Barton Pine since hearing her in Washington, twice, in 2006. In addition to the music we have already heard her play, it turns out that Barton Pine also has an interest in the Baroque violin repertory. She plays with a group called Trio Settecento, which made its Washington debut on Sunday night in a refined concert featuring music by French composers of the grand siècle. This French program, called A French Soirée, will be released on a disc this fall by Cedille, continuing a recent series of albums that has featured selections of German and Italian music.

The first half began with a mélange of music for the combination of violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord, mostly dances from the 17th century, by Lully, Couperin, and Marin Marais. In this repertory, Barton Pine plays on a most unusual and historically appropriate instrument, a violin made by Nicolò Gagliano in 1770 and preserved with almost no historical alteration to the present day. Gagliano's father, Alessandro, trained in the Cremonese workshops of Amati and Stradivari, and he founded a Neapolitan tradition of violin making. The way she played these works, with a slender and precise tone, sweet and meaty but never forced, is another indication of one of the best results of the historically informed performance movement: real violin virtuosos combined with historical instruments and techniques make for more exciting renditions than those by some of the earlier specialists. (Viktoria Mullova also comes to mind.) Barton Pine's tuning was impeccable, and her left hand remarkably agile even as she added little embellishments to already florid lines. Standout pieces in the set included a forlorn sarabande (taken from Couperin's Concerts royaux) and a chromatically rich chaconne by Marais.

John Mark Rozendaal was a talented partner to Barton Pine on the gamba, often in rhythmic dialogue with her. In the pieces that featured him as a soloist, as in the technically demanding Les guitares by Marais, one noticed shortcomings more than being wowed by virtuosity, with some infelicities of intonation on the high strings and finger tangles here and there. At the harpsichord (a William Dowd copy of an instrument made by Blanchet), David Schrader was rigorous and reliable but not all that noteworthy, until he had more to work with in the demanding pieces by Rameau, from the Deuxième Concert, and Antoine Forqueray's dazzling harpsichord solo La Leclair, an evocation of the violin virtuoso whose work concluded the concert. For the most part, though, this was the Rachel Barton Pine show, nowhere more than in the astounding performance of Leclair's G major violin sonata (op. 3, no. 1). In all of the movements except the elegiac Largo, Leclair seemed to be trying to recreate the texture of the trio sonata in this work -- with both of the violin parts taken by the one violinist in extremely difficult double stops. Barton Pine treated these movements as the contrapuntal tour de force they were, giving both of the lines independence and beauty.

The next concerts on the Friends of Music series at Dumbarton Oaks will feature the Altenberg Trio from Vienna (March 27 and 28).

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