Violinist Rachel Podger has a unique way of mixing serious insight, historical performance techniques, and a fun-loving sense of camaraderie. Now, she and her award-winning ensemble Brecon Baroque have applied those qualities to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and we’re celebrating the result on WCRB's CD of the Week.
You could almost say that violinist Rachel Podger grew up in the baroque era: her parents both sang in John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir in the 1970s, and she went on to spend years playing with the world’s best period-instrument ensembles. But it was when she moved with her husband and children to a little Welsh town called Brecon that she found herself really ready to lead her own group. The locals asked her to program their music festival, and the ensemble Brecon Baroque was born. They've won prizes and accolades for their recordings so far, and now they've brought their creative virtuosity to the wonderful strangeness of Vivaldi's four violin concertos that comprise The Four Seasons.
What's so strange about them? A lot. Research shows that Vivaldi revised them at some point, adding his own poetry to intensify their effect. Whether he worked his sonnets to go with the music, or vice-versa, it's hard to say, but every ensemble that plays these concertos gets to whistle in the treetops with the birds, shiver in the cold, and slap at the summer mosquitoes in the heat. With their bad weather, hunters' crossfire, freezing raindrops, and crackling fires, Vivaldi takes four of his 500 concertos into an 18th-century virtual reality.
Rachel Podger has a flexible kind of virtuosity that might be very like Vivaldi's, who had a reputation as a "freakish" violinist. What's astounding about the Four Seasons concertos is that despite all the descriptive detail that comes with them, no two performances are anything alike. Here, you'll hear something new from the very beginning, when the eight players of Brecon Baroque take you into a suave and gently calibrated springtime, until suddenly you're high in the branches, warm air all around you, listening in on a warmhearted conversation among the birds. Winter's winds blow and Podger slips and slides on the ice with propulsive (but not excessive) tempos and a spine-tingling clarity.
If you'd like to read Vivaldi's sonnets, you'll find them here.
And here are two minutes with Rachel Podger in a cello masterclass that really give you a feel for how she thinks:
Watch a trailer for the album:
For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.