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Vivaldi: The Four Seasons - Podger

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons - Podger

Channel Classics  CCS SA 40318

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Vivaldi: Four Seasons, Il Riposo per Il S.S. Natale RV 270, Concerto L'Amoroso Rv 271, Concerto Il Grosso Mogul Rv 208

Rachel Podger (violin)
Brecon Baroque


Vivaldi penned more than 500 concertos. At least 214 of these are for solo violin and orchestra, but as Michael Talbot remarks, ‘scarcely a year passes without the announcement of some fresh discovery’. So what was the ‘concerto’ to Vivaldi? What about it did he love so much to have composed so many? In the decade before Vivaldi composed Le Quattro Stagioni.

Despite what this recorded collection suggests, few of Vivaldi’s instrumental works have programmatic titles. On the whole, titles gesture towards a general mood. Il Riposo and L’amoroso are examples of this indication of Affekt – indeed, both are united in their key of gleaming E major. The case of Il Grosso Mogul is stranger. There seems to be no known link between Vivaldi and the Indian court of the Grand Mughal, Akbar. The extreme virtuosity required by the soloist in the outer movements, as well as the long, fully written-out cadenzas, suggest a theatrical function. Perhaps Vivaldi performed it as a ‘theatre concerto’ as part of an opera plot set in India. French royalty, however, did play a huge role in the reception of Le Quattro Stagioni.

Producer Jonathan Freeman-Attwood writes:
“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.”

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Review by Graham Williams - March 21, 2018

For the countless admirers of the playing of Rachel Podger and her Period group Brecon Baroque this latest recording of Vivaldi's 'Le Quattro Stagioni' (The Four Seasons) – the most celebrated four violin concertos drawn from his Op. 8 set of 12 violin concertos entitled 'Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione' (The Trial of Harmony and Invention) – will be a mandatory purchase.

Having already made superlative accounts for Channel Classics of Vivaldi's 'La Stravaganza' Op.4, 'La Cetra' Op.9 and 'L'Estro Armonico' Op.3 (the latter with Brecon Baroque) – thirty six concertos in total – it is perhaps not surprising that Podger has, until now, avoided adding to the hundreds of recordings of 'Le Quattro Stagioni' competing for attention in the catalogue. The violinist's celebration of her 50th birthday has been the stimulus for this latest enterprise and it proves to be worthwhile in every way.

The world-class virtuosi who together comprise Brecon Baroque have an unrivalled grasp of period style and this may be one reason why Podger decided to perform the work with one instrument to a part, a decision that brings each of her trusted colleagues into the spotlight as much as the principal soloist and director herself. The line-up consists of Johannes Pramsohler and Sabine Stoffer (violins), Jane Rogers (viola), Alison McGillivray (violoncello), Jan Spencer (violone), Daniele Caminiti (theorbo) and Marcin Świątkiewicz (harpsichord/chamber organ) who both individually and collectively contribute as much as the soloist to the success of these performances.

For some listeners used to performances with larger bodies of strings the relatively lean textures here may come as a shock, but one's ear quickly adjusts to this and we are able to relish to the full the remarkable purity of the burnished sound and the colouristic opportunities offered to each instrumentalist, especially from the lute and theorbo. Needless to say Podger's peerless execution of the solo part in each concerto is beyond reproach as is the abundant imagination she displays in ensuring that every aspect of Vivaldi's pictorial imagery is perfectly defined for the listener. Pacing of the outer movements all four concertos is relaxed, but always full of rhythmic zest, while the reflective central movements are imbued with a mesmerising beauty, free from any indulgence.

Most (though by no means all) versions of 'The Four Seasons' on disc add one of more fillers to the main work. Here the theme of Vivaldi compositions with programmatic titles is continued with the addition of three such concertos – the intimate 'Il Riposo per Il Santissimo Natale', RV 270, the lyrical' Concerto L'Amoroso' RV271 and finally the spectacular 'Concerto Il Grosso Mogul' RV208 – that add up to give this SACD a generous total playing time of 75.24. Rachel Podger's lovely cantabile playing and seamless line characterise the first two of these concertos while her dazzling virtuosity is given free rein, especially in the scintillating cadenza that concludes the latter.

It will come as no surprise to discover that the Channel Classics team (recording engineer Jared Sacks and producer Jonathan Freeman-Attwood) have done full justice to these musicians by providing a beautifully balanced recording (5.0 channel DSD) of unparalleled realism that perfectly recreates the fine acoustic of St. Jude's Church, London where from the 9th to the 12th of October 2017 the sessions took place.

With the ever-burgeoning multiplicity of recordings of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' it is difficult for any newcomer to demand attention in what is arguably the most fiercely competitive market for any classical work. However, here we have a fresh, uplifting account of Vivaldi's ubiquitous masterpiece performed impeccably by one of the world's finest period violinists and recorded in state-of the art sound. What more needs to be said?

Copyright © 2018 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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