Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Biber - Mystery Sonatas - Podger

Rating 5/5

An outstanding recording

This is simply wonderful.  Biber's Mystery Sonatas are extraordinary works in themselves, and Rachel Podger produces something really special in her performances here.

The music is a series of sonatas for violin which Biber wrote to represent key events in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  Biber was a very fine violinist and composer and in my view these sonatas are among the very best music he wrote.  It is expressive, emotionally intense and often very beautiful. He demands that the violin be retuned in unusual ways for each sonata (a technique called scordatura) which produces some extraordinarily atmospheric effects.  It's amazing music which I have liked and admired for years in excellent recordings by both John Holloway and Andrew Manze, but I have always found it slightly forbidding music somehow.  This performance by Rachel Podger has changed all that.

Technically, of course, she is superb and is rightly regarded as one of the world's leading baroque violinists. She has the skill and technique to make these extremely difficult pieces sound completely natural, with no sense of strain anywhere – just a deep involvement in what the music is saying.  Her tone is beautifully warm and she has a way of making the music accessible and welcoming without ever losing any of its intensity or intellectual weight.  She is beautifully matched in this by an excellent group of continuo players and the whole thing is an absolute delight.

Ten years ago, Rachel Podger transformed the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for me in her recording of them by showing me a way into the heart of the music and what it is really about in a way no-one else had managed.  She has done the same here with the Mystery Sonatas.  This is an absolutely outstanding recording (there will be something seriously wrong if it is not a strong contender in the next Gramophone Awards) and I can recommend it extremely warmly.

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