COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: The Masterclass Media Foundation
ALBUM TITLE: Rachel Podger at the Three Choirs Festival, Hereford
WORKS: Works for solo violin and cello (on Baroque and modern instruments)
PERFORMER: Rachel Podger (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: MMF 3-043 (ntsc system; 16.9 Picture Format)
Playing on gut strings with a Baroque bow ‘is a bit like taking your clothes off and being naked’, says Rachel Podger, trying to explain the difference between performing on a period and a modern violin. ‘It shows everything.’ And since this Bach masterclass, given at last year’s Three Choirs Festival, addresses both types of instrument as well as Baroque cello, it might have been instructive to explore the issues further, placing the instruments side by side. But that’s not the agenda, and Mischa Scorer’s film simply records an object lesson in interpretative ‘best practice’.
As it happens, Podger is utterly undogmatic, preferring instead to see all instruments as tools at the service of any musician’s primary focus: the music itself. She enthusiastically explores the difference between a rustic Bourée and a more aristocratic Loure – calling on theorists Mattheson and Quantz, among others, for historical ‘chapter and verse’. The freedom in her own playing, it soon transpires, is built on an understanding of Bach’s harmonic thinking, and she sings along, obligingly outlining the skeleton before suddenly yelling ‘cadence’ with the force of a driving instructor signalling an emergency stop. ‘Hierarchies’ (whether of voice or pulse) are also clarified; paradoxically, the spontaneity that informs Podger’s every phrase, ultimately derives from discipline which is as helpful to student Colin Scobie’s sensitively deployed ‘modern’ violin as to student George Clifford’s bright‑toned Baroque one.