Grandissima Gravita: Rachel Podger gives an ‘intoxicating’ performance

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COMPOSERS: Pisendel,Veracini,Vivaldi
LABELS: Channel Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Grandissima Gravita
WORKS: Pisendel: Violin Sonata in C; Tartini: Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 2 No. 5; Veracini: Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 5; Sonata accademica in D minor, Op. 2 No. 12; Vivaldi: Violin Sonata in A, Op. 2 No. 2 (RV 31)
PERFORMER: Rachel Podger (violin); Brecon Baroque
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 39217 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Rachel Podger’s new disc opens with an incomparably fluid violin fantasy, the flurry of agitated continuo… what could it be? Some unfamiliar masterpiece of the stylus phantasticus perhaps? It’s only when the cello initiates a purposeful break in the clouds that the Red Priest makes himself known. Podger was ever the free spirit, and her playing is intoxicated and intoxicating in equal measure, buoyed up by the wonderful improvisatory camaraderie of a continuo battery including Daniele Caminiti’s palette-enhancing lute and guitar. Vivaldi has the first word – and the last thanks to an encore: the Adagio from his C minor Solo Sonata composed for Pisendel.

The Grandissima Gravita of the title unites four brooding minor key sonatas by Tartini, Veracini and Pisendel, all, we must imagine (according to an arch liner note), joining forces with Vivaldi in the heavenly green room to raise a glass or three on Corelli’s birthday. Gravitas is never in short supply. Tartini lends the most modern accent; Pisendel an injection of Northern rigour; but the palm goes to Veracini’s Op. 2 No. 12. His Violin Sonata in G minor wraps a Passagallo (thoughtfully paced, its contrasts roundly savoured), and a Ciaccona that forswears initial foreboding to turn more febrile by the minute, around a central Capriccio, a thing of sharp edges, incisively etched.

Podger, inevitably, is the star, but ultimately the disc’s compulsive spell is down to the triumph of ensemble chemistry. Even the humblest of cello lines is elevated beyond functionality into something expressive and integral to the overall effect. Bewitching.

Paul Riley

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.