Among countless interpretations of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which range from modernized performances for large string orchestra to period-style versions for much leaner ensembles, there are few as pared-down as Rachel Podger's performances with Brecon Baroque. Podger plays the virtuosic solo violin part and directs an ensemble consisting of two violins, one viola, and one cello, supported by a continuo of violone, theorbo, and harpsichord or chamber organ. This might give an impression of extreme austerity or thinness of sound, but the surprising richness of the group's textures suggests that tonal production counts more than the number of players. While nobody knows the actual size of Vivaldi's orchestra, and some favor the moderately large string orchestra Vivaldi conducted at the Ospedale della Pietà, he might have encountered a different size of orchestra at the court of Mantua, where he composed the Four Seasons. At any rate, Podger and her musicians produce a remarkably colorful performance, and fill out the rest of the album with three more violin concertos, Il Riposo per Il santissimo Natale, L'Amoroso, and Il Grosso Mogul, which give new listeners a chance to explore less familiar Vivaldi. Channel Classics recorded this album in St. Jude's Church, London, and the resonant but unobtrusive acoustics contribute to the group's vibrant sound. Highly recommended.
Vivaldi: Le Quattro Stagioni; Il Grosso Mogul; Il Riposo; L'Amoroso Review
by Blair Sanderson