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Ludwig Van
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Daily album review 7: Baroque thrills and chills with violinist Rachel Podger's Guardian Angel

By John Terauds on November 8, 2013

Rachel Podger recording her album in May, in the Doopsgezinde Kerk in Haarlem, Holland.
Rachel Podger recording her album in May, in the Doopsgezinde Kerk in Haarlem, Holland.

One of the benefits of being more than a full generation into the historically informed performance movement is the rise of great virutoso violin players using baroque instruments. People like Toronto’s Aislinn Nosky and Julia Wedman — and English violinist Rachel Podger.

angelPodger, who led Tafelmusik for the first time last season, has recorded a spectacularly fine album of baroque pieces for solo violin for the Channel Classics label. Titled Guardian Angel, it features sonatas, partitas and suites by J.S. Bach, Heinrich Biber, Giuseppe Tartini, Nicola Matteis and Johann Georg Pisendel.

The Bach work is a standalone solo partita, supposedly written for the flute, but one that works very nicely for solo violin (and which Podger plays in a different key).

The music on this album dates from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the time when the violin took over as the star of stringed instruments.

The same virtuosity, passion and all-over ability to raise goosebumps that remain hallmarks of the violin — think Niccolò Paganini, Fritz Kreisler, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell — are present here.

The CD booklet notes include a diary entry by John Evelyn, from a concert he heard in November 1674 by Nicola Matteis: “Nothing approch’d the violin in Nocholas’ hand: he seem’d to be spiritato’d & plaied such ravishing things on a ground as astonished us all.”

The baroque period is also when we first start to read of instrumental solos needing to be treated as vocal music, of melodies needing to sing. This was an oft-repeated dictum of Tartini, one of the great teachers of his day.

So what we get are 78-1/2 minutes of singing, dancing and, above all a mix of remarkable musicianship and awe-inspiring virtuosity. There is absolutely nothing Podger can’t do with an instrument and bow that many committed modern violinists still consider inferior. How she can do this while performing, leading two orchestras and teaching is mind boggling.

She must have a guardian angel (aside from the one in the title of the album, which refers to an illustration in Biber’s Mystery Sonatas).

You can listen to and download tracks here.

John Terauds

 

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