Vivaldi: The Four Seasons - Rachel Podger (SACD)

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Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque

This recording of The Four Seasons (without the other repertoire featured on this disc) is also available on LP. Click here to view this title in our online store.

What better music than Vivaldi’s ‘Le Quattro Stagioni’ to start the celebration of Rachel’s 50th birthday year! Together with the star players of Brecon Baroque, Rachel guides you through the seasons of nature and life.

Producer Jonathan Freeman-Attwood: ‘The irresistible characterpieces that pit solo violin against string ensemble in Vivaldi’s ‘Le Quattro Stagioni’ have reached the ears of millions over the last few generations.

Most recordings adopt a strikingly similar approach to the scores, and familiarity has blunted the music’s edge: we have passed the point of rediscovery and have stopped listening intently to the freshness of Vivaldi’s invention.

Working with Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque has been an object lesson in starting anew and identifying the ingredients which make ‘Le Quattro Stagioni’ great works. Virtuosity is non-negotiable here and Rachel has it in abundance. But it’s the colour, poetry, vibrancy and evocative characterisation of weather, human warmth and fragility, captured by the dynamic flux of Rachel interlocking with her colleagues in Brecon Baroque, that deliver near-unimaginable qualities in this music.

With two other deeply evocative works and that great ‘bull’ of a concerto, ‘Il Grosso Mogul’, the experience is kaleidoscopic in the capacity of a single-part string band to press the boundaries of intimacy and, at the same time, to produce visceral fortes as dramatic as you’ll here in any larger group. The musical range is sensational and matched all the way by Jared Sacks’s luminous and emotionally engaged recorded sound.’

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Gramophone Magazine

"It’s not just that the actual playing is superb: serene virtuoso fluency from Podger, gorgeously supported by her colleagues...It’s also that this is something genuinely, effortlessly and naturally different...I’ve never heard their every twist and turn served up as quite the succession of changing sound worlds as appears here."

The Times

5 Stars

"Why consider another recording? The answer lies in many things: Podger’s bouncy phrasing and clarity, myriad subtleties in textures and dynamics, the kindliness of a recording that, unlike some, allows the music and its reverberations to breathe...There’s also the exquisite balance of parts shared between Podger’s eight-strong ensemble."

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Vivaldi: Concerto for strings 'Il riposo - per il Santissimo Natale', RV 270
Vivaldi: Concerto for Violin "Il Grosso Mogul" in D major RV 208
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in E major, RV271 'L'Amoroso'

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Podger's Seasons reveal the freshness of Vivaldi's inspiration.



Unlike Stravinsky's [previously reviewed] Perséphone, Vivaldi's four violin concertos Op. 8 known as The Four Seasons are much loved, and have been recorded repeatedly since the process of recording music began. This release is not brand new - it has been around now for a couple of months - and I am only getting to it now because I was guilty of thinking, "Oh yes, another Four Seasons." Like most collectors I have favourite versions, such as those with Salvatore Accardo and Ann-Sophie Mutter. There is also the weird 'deconstruction' with recorded bird-calls and zany improvisations by the group Red Priest, and another version for jazz clarinet with Eddie Daniels - not to mention a compilation that interweaves Vivaldi's seasons with those of Piazzolla. Several decades' worth of seasons are out there.

Well, Rachel Podger's version is outstanding. It could best be described as refreshing: there is such freshness of attack from her eight-person chamber ensemble, which consists of Podger on first violin, two more violins, a viola, a cello, a violone, a theorbo (a stringed instrument related to the lute), and one keyboard player who doubles harpsichord and chamber organ. The listener quickly understands why Vivaldi's group of concertos has withstood the test of time, and how revolutionary the music must have sounded to contemporary ears.

Specific details such as the imitation of birdcalls in the 'Largo' movement of "Spring" are done with great point in Podger's recording. When the weather turns a little chilly in the central movement of "Autumn", the effect is wonderfully achieved with the cool woodwind registration of the organ, and this continuo colours "Winter" in the same way. The rustic "Autumn" 'Allegro' is foot-stampingly down to earth. In short, the brilliance of Vivaldi's inspiration is clear from beginning to end.

The accompanying unseasonal concertos are equally well played. The Rococo gestures of the 'Cantabile' movement of L'Amoroso never suggest emotional detachment, as they can in some performances. Podger's direction and her solo playing are tight, disciplined and adroit, and the sound quality is excellent. Some listeners may find the dynamic swells on the long notes in the "Spring" 'Allegro' off-putting, likewise the solo violin's spare use of vibrato - these were performance conventions of the era - but do persevere. It is worth it.