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Latest from Trio Settecento

This article was first published at The Classical Review on January 20, 2012.

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A French Soirée, Trio Settecento

(released on November 15, 2011)
Cedille CDR 90000 129 | 78'55"
Rachel Barton Pine has made a name for herself as a soloist in the big Romantic violin concertos, in concert and on disc, but she stands out from other violinists of her generation for her willingness to play music off the beaten path.

She has made recordings of lesser-known concertos by Franz Clément and Joseph Joachim, for example, pairing them with more famous contemporaneous repertoire warhorses by Beethoven and Brahms respectively. Her latest solo disc, Capricho Latino, is a recital of Spanish and Latin American music for unaccompanied violin, some of it adapted from pieces originally created for other instruments, including the guitar. She also plays in a heavy metal band, of all things.

At a concert of French music from the grand siècle, in Washington last year, I learned of Barton Pine’s interest in Baroque music. With John Mark Rozendaal on viola da gamba and David Schrader on harpsichord, she formed Trio Settecento in 1996, an ensemble devoted to 17th- and 18th-century music. That concert program informed this third recording by the group and follows earlier discs of Italian and German music, all on the Cedille Records label.

Barton Pine’s interest in early music goes back quite a while: she won a Gold Medal at the J. S. Bach International Violin Competition in 1992, and has performed with the Newberry Consort, the Baroque Band, and the Chicago Baroque Ensemble, all historically informed performance ensembles. 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.

The most striking piece in the Washington concert, the elder Jean-Marie Leclair’s Violin Sonata in G major, closes this recording. It perfectly showcases Barton Pine’s astounding virtuosity (Leclair was himself a virtuoso violinist), and shows her handling the devilish multiple-stop writing used to evoke trio sonata texture as if she were creating the sound of two violins on a single instrument.

Her Trio Settecento colleagues mostly serve as backup to Barton Pine’s fireworks, especially in the Leclair piece. It is combined with a fiery D minor Sonata by Jean-Féry Rebel, François Couperin’s Troisième Concert (distinguished by its folksy ‘Muzette’, a lively dance imitating the sound of a medieval bagpipe), and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s rollicking, harpsichord-centered Quatrième Concert, which includes a depiction of the chaos of the composer’s home, the slapstick lazzi (‘jokes’) of the Italian commedia dell’arte, and the prattling chatter of an indiscreet gossip.

John Mark Rozendaal sounds in better form on the disc than he did live, perhaps because he plays here on a superior bass viol from the 18th century (made by Jean Ouvrard in 1743). The famous gamba solo La Guitare, by the virtuoso Marin Marais, is quite beautiful. The Marais pieces are among several excerpts grouped together under the title of Divertissement representing the vast body of music composed for the royal ear, which includes dances from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Ballet Royal de Flore (the last court ballet in which Louis XIV personally took part as a dancer in 1669), and suite movements by François Couperin and Marais. Each of these movements strikes a mood, often in the rhythmic pattern and tempo range of a specific dance style, and holds the ear entranced for their short durations.

The exception is Marais’ delightful Chaconne, the longest of three examples of the genre, based on a repeated bass ostinato pattern, one of the most iconic compositional types of the French baroque. Along with the chaconnes, the two sarabandes, both from concerts (suites) by Couperin, offer some of the most delectable listening on this generally savory disc.

In a personal note in the CD booklet, accompanying thoughtful program notes penned by Rozendaal, Barton Pine describes her labors in finding and maintaining appropriate intonation on a recording in which the pitch is set at A=392 (somewhat similar to a modern G-natural). “Listening to the glorious, ornate, and refined music of the French Baroque,” she writes, “is like stepping into a fantasy world of elegance and opulence.”

Indeed, Barton Pine’s exquisite intonation is one of the reasons listening to her is so rewarding. To further complicate matters, the harpsichord (a 1983 Lawrence G. Eckstein copy of a Dumont-Taskin instrument, with a charming lute stop, heard in the Couperin Sicilienne) has been tuned in an unequal temperament.

The Trio Settecento threesome, accustomed to one another from years of playing together, form a pleasing, unified whole, with careful, historically based attention given to matters of phrasing and ornamentation.

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