Rachel Podger's Grand New Baroque SACD

Few violinists would consider saddling a recording with a title as grand and potentially pretentious as Grandissima Gravita. But not only is Rachel Podger's latest Channel Classics hybrid SACD with her ensemble, Brecon Baroque, grandly played—Podger is brilliant as always—but its title also serves as an apt descriptor of the emotional tenor of most of the works on the program.

The choice of contents is explained in one of the cleverest introductory essays I've ever encountered in a recording. Commentator Mark Seow stages a scene in heaven in which the album's four contributors—the 18th century baroque composers-violinists Vivaldi, Tartini, Veracini, and Pisendel—gather to reflect on their time on earth. First their raise their glasses in toast to Arcangelo Corelli, the grave tone of whose Op.5 collection of sonatas, published in 1700, greatly influenced each of them. After conjecturing that they may have all been in Venice at the same time in 1716, they discuss the many ways in which baroque composers influenced each other, how the practice of alchemy affected their musical development, and how jealousy amongst rival composers could even be life-threatening. Not mentioned in the essay is that all but the "encore" by Vivaldi, a short sonata movement which is modeled on an Adagio from Pisendel's Sonata for violin and harpsichord in C minor (also on the program), and Pisendel's work carries the designation Op.2.

As soon as words end, the music takes over. Most evident are Podger's distinctively tangy, pungent sound—a winning combination of acid and sweetness that seems ideal for her chosen repertoire—and her ability to enliven every phrase she plays. Auditioned via a stereo DSD128 download from nativeDSD.com, Podger's playing sounds glorious throughout.

Backed by her superb ensemble, Brecon Baroque, Podger begins with Antonio Vivaldi's succinct Sonata for violin and continuo in A major, Op.2 No.2. The composition is remarkable, not only for the aptly grand flourish of its opening, but also for the manner in which it moves through so many contrasting moods with freshness and variety. It is also the only work on the program that exhibits unbridled joy, which Podger conveys with vigor and ease.

From there, the music's tenor turns grayer. Podger and Brecon Baroque always sound fresh, thanks in no small part to engineer Jared Sacks' ability to capture the contrasting colors of baroque instruments. But the baroque penchant for gravity and melancholy is everywhere in evidence. The opening Andante Cantabile of Tartini's Sonata for violin and continuo, Op.2 No.5, for example, is quite moving in its sadness, and even the ensuing Allegro maintains the feeling. At the work's end, Podger bites into her sound with such vigor that you can almost imagine her dancing heartily with her fellow musicians as she plays.

Veracini's Sonata for violin and continuo in G minor, another Op.2 No.5, has an especially compelling second movement Capriccio that showcases him and the players' at their imaginative best. The ensuing Allegro assai is energetic and engaging—major wow stuff—while the concluding Giga conveys the love of dance that resounds through so many baroque compositions.

Pisendel's Sonata for violin and harpsichord in C minor has as its highlight a distinctive third movement Affetuoso of touching tenderness. The program's final multi-movement work, Veracini's Sonata No.12 for violin and continuo in D minor Op.2 No.12 (Sonata Accademiche), elicits some of the most lively and exciting musicianship on a disc that looks to be another potential award-winner for Podger and Brecon Baroque.

philipjohnwright's picture

Brecon, not Breton.

Pointed out because I know you're a stickler Jason. Also to bring the Brecon Beacons, from whence they get their name, a bit of profile. A lovely area in South Wales that I can thoroughly recommend to walkers, having discovered it myself this summer.

They also have the Brecon Baroque festival in October that Rachel heads up. I couldn't make it this year but will endeavour to next; some top level playing in lovely locations (local churches and the like).

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Sigh. And I proofread multiple times...

brenro's picture

Didn't buy the disc (yet) but have been enjoying it on Tidal.