Elizabeth Pitcairn brought her famous “red” violin Sunday afternoon to debut at the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival’s final concert of the season. The violin is a Stradivarius once owned by Felix Mendelssohn’s family that Pitcairn’s grandfather bought her in 1990 at auction.
In a short video, she talked about the violin’s pedigree and how it became the inspiration for Francois Girard’s 1999 film, “The Red Violin.” While the red in the movie’s version came from blood, the red color was actually one of Stradivarius’ experiments with a kind of reddish varnish, Pitcairn said. John Corigliano wrote the Oscar-winning film score but he also wrote a “Red Violin Chaconne” for violin and piano that was premiered in 1997 by Joshua Bell, who had played on the film’s score.
Pitcairn, dressed in a striking scarlet, form-fitting, one shoulder gown that she purchased at a Texas boutique, played the work with long-time partner, pianist Cynthia Elise Tobey. Corigliano wove a theme he used in the movie throughout the work, which is based on a specific seven-chord progression, Pitcairn said. It’s a dark, haunting and melancholic piece with several frenzied passages and the frequent use of double stops. Pitcairn played with a singing tone and sailed through the many technical difficulties.
Then Pitcairn introduced the large crowd to the other side of her life: artistic director of the Luzerne Music Center. She brought four of the musicians who work as the Luzerne Chamber Players: violinists Danielle Belen and Elbert Tsai, violist Brett Deubner and cellist Abe Feder. Working with Bob Bockholt’s arrangements, the quartet with Pitcairn as soloist performed four recital encore-type pieces.
Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro was baroque-ish. Pitcairn played with a committed passion, brilliant technique and a lot of drive. The quartet, which was well rehearsed, gave her full support.
Dinicu’s “Hora Staccato” was light, catchy and charming. Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais” with its beautiful melody had good pacing, phrasing that breathed and was tasteful. No schmaltz here.
Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” was great fun. Pitcairn showed light fingers on the speedy scales.
The second half was more serious with festival artistic director, pianist Andre-Michel Schub, joining Pitcairn, Deubner and Feder for Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25 (1861). Pitcairn impressed in that she shed her soloist’s image and became one of the players. She also changed her dress to a long, black number to make it official.
The group played as one voice, which was especially needed because the string parts were written in close harmony and very meaty. Schub played with a sensitive touch that never overwhelmed, so balances were always exact. Pitch and ensemble were excellent, melodies were sung well. The mood was gay, sunny and vibrant, especially for the final gypsy rondo, which mixed romance with a playful high drama.