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It feels slightly unoriginal to begin a review by quoting that old adage, ‘the best things come to those who wait’. However, those words do feel especially pertinent for Rachel Podger’s Vivaldi Four Seasons, which she has finally put on disc in her 50th-birthday year, joined by her superlative one-to-a-part ensemble of fellow period-instrument leading lights, Brecon Baroque. It’s not just that the actual playing is superb: serene virtuoso fluency from Podger, gorgeously supported by her colleagues, with some especially fine chamber matching from violinists Johannes Pramsohler and Sabine Stoffer. It’s also that this is something genuinely, effortlessly and naturally different.
At the nub of this triumph is the thought that’s gone into timbre and balance across the four concertos, because I’ve never heard their every twist and turn served up as quite the succession of changing sound worlds as appears here. Take Spring’s ear-catching central Largo: while Brecon Baroque are hardly the first ensemble to place a spotlight on that barking-dog viola, it’s less usual to hear the solo violin as far back as Podger has been placed, or the viola’s crescendo at the end. It’s then all change again for the final Allegro, Jan Spencer’s violone cranking up the drone effect to especially zinging levels, complemented by the subtlest of peasanty inflections from the violins.
Other notable expressive detailing include the bringing out of Daniele Caminitti’s expressive theorbo-playing in Summer’s opening movement, where also to be savoured are the wistful inflections with which Podger has coloured her tight trills. Also the way she stretches out the central Adagio’s final top G to almost hit the dramatic final-movement thunderstorm, itself brilliantly coloured with sul ponticello effects. Then there’s the soft organ and theorbo continuo underpinning Autumn’s buoyant, luminously ringing first movement. Or, perhaps most glorious of all, Winter’s fireside Largo: a luxuriously tactile, tranquil feast of glowing ensemble raindrops whose beauty caught me completely off guard, topped by Podger’s sensitively embellished solo line.
Podger and her team have been generous too, adding three further Vivaldi concertos, all of which have been realised with an equal ear to the scorings’ possibilities for timbral flair. Even had they not done, though, this still would have been a Four Seasons to covet and keep.
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