This is not yet another recording of the Four Seasons. More importantly, this is not your standard historically informed account. This is fresh, insightful, well-thought-out, introspective music-making of the highest order.
Of course, Rachel Podger has produced some magisterial accounts of the Vivaldi concertos. The Stravaganza, especially, still stands out as an outstanding interpretation of these unique works (so distinct that they prove that Vivaldi did not compose the same concerto several times!)
So does this new release of the Four Seasons. This is not a blazingly fast performance, as the historically informed movement has made us expect. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the more relaxed tempos when compared to other notable HIP recordings (like the pioneering and utterly dramatic Carmignola on Sony).
Even though Podger’s ensemble is rather small (8 players in all), the detailed orchestration is splendidly realised, complete with theorbo, harpsichord and chamber organ, the continuo instruments here more present than usual, in a spacious recording that make the strings sound fuller.
As for Podger herself on the violin, her use of ornamentation is a marvel. Just listen to the ultra-sensitive rendition of the Largo from Winter, in this release in a really groovy account, strings and continuo instruments emphasizing the dance-like qualities of the music as never before. But this is Winter we are talking about, and the performance can be equally chilly, as in the opening movement which here receives a Hitchcockian treatment.
As for the “happier” seasons they also have their idiosyncrasies but to a smaller extent. The Largo from Spring with its dream-like textures in this recording gives the impression of a hazy distant memory, with Podger’s violin placed slightly in the background. Summer might not have the crazy outburst of other HIP recordings, but here again, the attention to detail creates some unique effects, mainly due to the intelligent use of the theorbo during the brief pauses.
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In the end, what makes this release special is the sense of contemplation and thoughtfulness, qualities which we rarely associate with this work. Combined with the gusto of the Brecon Baroque and Podger’s ornamentation, each season sounds more exotic than usual. If you want more pyrotechnics, then Carmignola with the Venice Baroque Orchestra never fail to impress and awe. But for sensitive and introspective musicianship, this new recording by Podger and the Brecon Baroque ensemble is hard to beat. No matter how many recordings of the Four Seasons you have, this is essential listening. Let me just say that this is worth acquiring just for the rendition of Winter alone (which you can sample in the teaser video below):
Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
Rachel Podger (Violin, Director)
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