Arts & Events

Violinist Rachel Podger Performs with Voices of Music

James Roy MacBean
Friday June 10, 2016 - 12:13:00 PM

Rachel Podger has recently been described by England’s Sunday Times as “the queen of the baroque violin,” and on Thursday evening, June 9, in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church Ms. Podger demonstrated why she has earned this moniker. In a program entirely devoted to Baroque Violin Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi, Ms. Podger was joined by Voices of Music, a group of outstanding Bay Area Baroque specialists. Voices of Music, founded by Hanneke van Proosdij and her husband David Tayler, has been called the most popular early music ensemble in the USA.  

Starting off this program was J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Violin in E Major, BWV 1042. The work opens with three bow strokes, offering a major triad, a feature Bach may have picked up from Vivaldi. This concerto is in the Northern style rather than the Roman style, (the latter deriving from the concertos of Corelli), although here the solo violin part offers Rachel Podger ample space for extended solos. Between the outer movements is a lovely Adagio, which opens and closes with the cello and offers a poignant, melancholy mood in contrast to the bright mood of the outer movements. Rachel Podger’s performance in this opening Bach work already demonstrated her admirable technique and interpretive flair. A tall woman with a tawny mane of hair flowing over her shoulders, Rachel Podger performs with a lithe, graceful athleticism, her body often arching back then thrusting upwards.  

Following the Bach opener came Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor, RV157. This work too is in the Northern style, and all four violins share the solo parts, usually playing in unison. However, in the middle of three movements, a Largo, Rachel Podger teamed with violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock to perform a duo offering lovely lyricism. The final movement, an Allegro, features the whole ensemble in a very lively mood full of Italian brio. Next on the program was a short work by J.S. Bach, a Sonata in G Major, from the Cantata Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen, BWV 182. Here Rachel Podger on baroque violin was joined by Hanneke van Proosdij on recorder. Then, for the final work before intermission, Rachel Podger and Voices of Music performed Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049. This work featured Henneke van Proosdij and Andrew Levy playing, first, recorders, then, during second and third movements,echo flutes. These latter were paired wind instruments, one of which is voiced slightly softer than the other, creating an echo-like sound. The ensemble brought this lively work off splendidly. 

After intermission, the musicians returned to perform two works by Vivaldi followed by Bach’s well-known Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043. In Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 4, No. 11, RV 204 from La Stravaganza, Rachel Podger again demonstrated her interpretive flair, even mugging a bit as she glowered at the audience while playing Vivaldi’s repeated fortissimo flourishes, then suddenly softened her expression as Vivaldi closed this energetic passage with the same flourish played pianissimo. The middle movement of this work offered a lovely Largo featuring cello, played by William Skeen, and lute, played by David Tayler. Next on the program was Vivaldi’s famous Concerto for recorder in C Major, RV 443. For this work Nanneke van Proosdij performed on sopranino recorder, offering a brilliant interpretation of this fiendlishly difficult music, which earned Ms. Van Proosdij a well-deserved standing ovation. The final work on the program was Bach’s Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043. Here Rachel Podger again teamed with violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock in this three movement work. The middle movement, a lilting Largo, was beautifully played, and it was repeated as an encore because, as Ms. Podger announced, “we didn’t have time to rehearse anything else, so we’re playing the Largo again.” If anything, it sounded even better in the encore, if that is even possible. All in all, it was a brilliant concert featuring some of the world’s foremost interpreters of Baroque music.