Tartini and Verancini: New Types of Pasta? A Review of Rachel Podger’s Grandissima Gravita

Rachel Podger

After my so-so review of Adam Baldych’ recent Jazz album, where I declared I didn’t really like the sounds of the instrument, one of my readers asked me whether I like the sound of Baroque violin.

Let me put one thing clear: Very much so indeed! And when we get to baroque violin, there are few better players out there than Rachel Podger. I’m a big fan of her.

I’ve previously praised her Biber Rosary sonatas, that deservedly so won a Gramophone award in her category in 2016, and I also love her ventures beyond baroque, for example her outstanding Mozart violin sonatas (see my review here), which also made it into my Must Have Mozart albums.

(I haven’t written about it yet, but her Bach concertos, especially the album on double and triple concertos, is also outstanding).

So you can see a theme emerging up there, with a special focus on violin sonatas with small ensembles.

So, not surprisingly, I was very tempted when I saw her latest album come out.

 

Grandissima Gravita – Rachel Podger – Brecon Baroque (Channel Classics 2017)

 

Grandissima Gravita Pisendel Tartini Veracini Vivaldi Rachel Podger Brecon Baroque Channel Classics 24/96

 

What’s the downside? You get several Italian baroque composer that are really not that well known, from Giuseppe Tartini, to Francesco Maria Veracini, to the only non-Italian in the group, Johann Georg Pisendel, a German but who during a trip to Italy became friends with the only well-known composer of this album, Antonio Vivaldi.

So what do we get from these relatively little known Vivaldi contemporaries? Well, musically, this is not a must have. Already Vivaldi is not my favorite cup of tea among the baroque composers, and his contemporaries are usually even less interesting to me.

But after the first stream, I went ahead and bought the album immediately?

Why is this, will you ask after my somewhat negative intro?

Well, it is simply because Podger, with her small ensemble, Brecon Baroque, plays with so much passion and energy that you simply cannot help to be drawn into the music.

I keep playing it over and over again. I really don’t think you could play this any better.

Add on top the outstanding recording quality of Channel Classics, and you have an album that you really should be checking out!

My rating: 4 stars (5+ star playing, down-graded due to the interest of the repertoire)

You can find it here (Native DSD) and here (Qobuz)

My favorite Four Seasons by Giuliano Carmignola with the Venice Baroque Orchestra

Another blog post triggered by the series of blind comparisons on Swiss radio, Disques en lice, the French version, this time. They’ve recently compared 7 versions of the world famous Four Seasons.

Antonio Vivaldi and The Four Seasons

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not a very big Vivaldi fan. On my personal scale, Bach and even partially Händel are miles ahead of the Red Priest. I wouldn’t go as far as Stravinsky who said Vivaldi had written the same concerto 400 times, he has a point though.

But obviously, you just HAVE to have a version of the world most famous program music, the Four Seasons, in any decent record collection (or music collection to be more generic, does anybody still collect records out there?).

Obviously this has been overplayed to death. But if you haven’t listened to it for a while and actually give it a go again with a fresh ear, there are many beautiful elements in there that makes it worth going back to it occasionally. On my personal playlist it appears about 1 per year.

How to choose a version

Obviously, this work has been recorded a gazillion times. I had chosen my personal preference, the recording by Carmignola below, some time ago after comparing about 20 versions. So take this with a grain of salt, obviously there are many other good recordings out there.

In any case, I was obviously very curious if it would appear in the Disques en lice selection, and how it would compare.

Unfortunately, exactly this recording didn’t appear. However, luckily for me, Carmignola actually recorded the Four Seasons twice, and his earlier recording with the Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca was selected. I was surprised how close these two versions were, in spite of being recorded with 10 years between them.

In a nutshell, that program confirmed my clear preference for Carmignola. The three experts in the program liked it as well, but in the end found it a bit too middle of the road (and they have a point in a way) and preferred in the end the more extreme recordings by Diego Faso’s,  very theatrical, worth checking out, but a bit “too much” for me, and Midori Seiler with the Akademie für Alte Musik, a really good recording but I personally don’t like the sound of Seiler’s violin very much).

Carmignola’s 2nd recording of the Four Seasons

Vivaldi Four Seasons Giuliano Carmignola Andrea Marcon Venice Baroque Orchestra Sony

So what does Carmignola do? Well nothing special, just everything right, and very right. His Guarneri has a beautiful voice, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra plays with just the right level of energy, speed and drive, and a lot of transparency (which by the way luckily is very well recorded, so you get the same transparency transported very well).

Ah yes, and you also get two world premiere recordings of two previously unknown violin concertos as a filler. But in a way, we’re back here to Stravinsky’s 400 times the same, there don’t really disturb, but I really don’t feel you would have missed anything if these had stayed unrecorded for just a little bit longer.

My rating: Four stars (It’s a true five-star performance though, but I just cannot get myself to give 5 stars to Vivaldi, so just ignore the star rating and get it anyhow).

You can get it here (Prestoclassical) and here (Qobuz).