The Four Seasons; plus Concerto for strings, RV 270 (Il riposo); Violin Concertos – in E, RV271 (L’Amoroso); in D, RV 208 (Il Grosso Mogul)
Rachel Podger (violin); Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics CCS SA 40318 (hybrid CD/SACD) 75:24 mins
Although the catalogue is fairly bursting with recordings of Vivaldi’s seasonal foursome, who wouldn’t want to hear Rachel Podger’s take on Op. 8’s most famous concertos? Her 2015 recording of L’estro armonico with Brecon Baroque utterly nailed that exhilarating collection, and predictably they have plenty to say that is fresh about Le quattro stagioni. Fresh, but without falling back on exaggerated histrionics – Autumn’s drunkenness feels more like the product of an extra half schooner of sherry than full-on Bacchic abandonment.
Part of the freshness stems from the interaction between Podger and her one-to-a-part ensemble. She’s first among equals and the dynamic couldn’t be further removed from the usual notion of the concerto as a vehicle for the all-conquering soloist. Indeed, whether in Spring’s multi-beaked violin twitterings or the viola barking of the slow movement’s dog, it’s striking just how many soloistic opportunities Vivaldi offers the ensemble. Summer’s opening languor could convey a little more torpor, but it gives way to a cuckoo with attitude; and in the Finale’s storm, Podger and co send thunderbolts flying in all directions. Musical details are incisively etched, whether in the pungent pizzicatos and thrusting forward momentum of Winter’s Largo, or the gutsy, incisive tally-ho of Autumn’s hunt. Best of all, though, is what follows: tenderly caressed performances of the Il riposo and L’Amoroso concertos, and a gleaming account of Il Grosso Mogul whose first movement cadenza dazzles, its Finale a shimmer of opulent exuberance.