In spite of its title (and the serene scene of repose on the CD cover), don’t think you’re going to put your darling little one to sleep with this latest recital from violinist extraordinaire Rachel Barton Pine. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine one of today’s very musically sensitized infants, on hearing Pine’s opening strains of Brahms’ iconic Wiegenlied, suddenly rising up from the crib and announcing: “Mommy, I want to play the violin!” And the more the program progresses—pregnant with many very sophisticated pieces drawn from the technically accurate category of “lullabies”, which includes things titled cradle songs, berceuses, and slumber songs—you, and that precocious child, will soon put away any preconceived notion that this was going to be some sort of lightweight musical ride and realize that, hey, this is serious stuff as well as pretty, and even calming, and warmly catchy, and sometimes nearly virtuosic.
Of course, if you know Rachel Barton Pine’s work, you know that she never would produce a recording based on musically superficial or purely commercial value. A recording of lullabies would have to have some more thoughtful purpose. Indeed, Pine, in her very informative liner notes, describes her earliest exposure to music—her mother singing a lullaby—and goes on from there to describe how, at the birth of her first child, she began collecting these kinds of songs, written by composers of all stripes, most of which were written for the violin, others transcribed from piano or vocal pieces.
You probably will be surprised at the who’s who list of composers represented, all of whom wrote some sort of lullaby that could be conscripted, adapted, played straight, or arranged for violin and piano. The names are impressive, as is the quality of the works: Ysaÿe, Respighi, Falla, Fauré, Sibelius, Grieg, Still, Ravel, Hovhaness, Stravinsky—and the list goes on. But the real point is that Pine makes a completely absorbing, thoroughly entertaining program out of these 25 short works (most less than three minutes), largely because she is one of today’s world-class virtuosos, and she very tastefully adds virtuoso touches, such as the gorgeous upper-stratosphere finish to Gershwin’s Summertime—not in my recollection listed anywhere as a lullaby, but in Pine’s hands a sure candidate for such consideration.
And even if you don’t happen to care much for the idea of lullabies (who are you, exactly?), you will not be untouched by the fundamental appeal of each one of these selections, which Pine explains were chosen “based purely on musical merit.” (You will not disagree with her assessment.) On a disc like this there are so many so-called highlights, but, along with the delightful rendition of Gershwin’s Summertime, I can’t forget Pine’s sensuous, sinuous performance of Falla’s Nana—wow, this is a perfect example of how the violin’s expressive powers (in the right hands, of course) can rival those of the human voice.
William Grant Still’s Mother and Child, from Suite for Violin and Piano, is in no way a lullaby (that is, the going to sleep variety), but it’s a significant work that’s deserving of attention given to other 20th-century works in the genre. The same goes for Ravel’s just-a-little-creepy Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré, and for many other of the works by lesser-known composers—Durosoir, Antsev, Sivori, Béraud, Schwab—whom Pine has happily and rightfully selected for this unique recital—which I guarantee you will find yourself playing and replaying. And I promise, you won’t fall asleep in the process. This is a winning idea that works because of well-conceived musical motivation supported by first-rate production values. Strongly recommended—without age limit.