The Strad Issue: January 2016
Description: Podger and friends are the ideal guides to Biber’s mysterious sonatas
Musicians: Rachel Podger (violin) David Miller (theorbo/archlute) Jonathan Manson (cello/viola da gamba) Marcin ŠšwiÄ…tkiewicz (harpsichord/organ)
Composer: Biber

The weird and the wonderful combine to compelling effect in Biber’s Rosary Sonatas. And Rachel Podger, easily one of today’s finest purveyors of period violin playing, is the ideal guide to these ever-intriguing pieces. Whereas in concert she uses a collection of violins to ease the transition between the scordatura tunings that so alter the instrument’s sound (see last issue), here she plays all 16 on her 1739 Pesarini. She says she was fascinated ‘to witness the changes it went through during the cycle’, and notes that the violin ‘suffers’ as the drama of the story unfolds. Podger and her violin become the ideal storytellers as the cycle develops from the mingled joy and apprehension of ‘The Annunciation’, through the ecstasy of ‘The Finding in the Temple’ to the queasy bariolage of ‘The Agony in the Garden’ and the increasing mystery post-Resurrection. She makes the most of those awkward tunings, technically assured as the violin’s voice is ‘crushed’ and then released over the two hours of the cycle but careful never to make it simply sound easy.

The recording, which took place in St Jude’s Church, Hampstead, is of Channel’s usual standard, capturing the plangency of the violin in ‘The Nativity’ as persuasively as the rejoicing of ‘The Resurrection’, and revealing Podger’s regular chamber partners as awed witnesses and co-conspirators in this greatest story ever told.