REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Rachel Podger and Daniele Caminiti at York Early Music Festival

Rachel Podger: “Her violin and Baroque music are made for each other”. Picture: Theresa Pewal

York Early Music Festival: Rachel Podger and Daniele Caminiti, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 13

RACHEL Podger’s violin and Baroque music are made for each other. The two halves of her outgoing personality, both personal and musical, are closely intertwined and enhance one another most intimately in her approach to the Baroque. In this wide-ranging tour of the period, her accomplice was the deft Sicilian theorbist Daniele Caminiti.

Although she naturally included several of the great names – Bach, Vivaldi, Biber – her surprises lay with lesser lights and with an unusual transcription. She opened with a rhapsodic sonata (Seconda) from the early Baroque by Giovanni Battista Fontana, whose simple melodies she embellished with delightful decorations, especially at cadences.

She immediately followed that with the last of 12 instrumental sonatas – believed to be the first by a woman ever to be published – by Isabella Leonarda, an Ursuline nun who composed prolifically right into her eighties.

It opened with a soulful Adagio, and continued as if telling a story, including a lyrical Aria and a brisk Veloce in jig time with a throwaway ending; its use of harmony was astounding. Podger gave its twists and turns typically stylish enthusiasm.

Bach’s Third Cello Suite, BWV1009 in C, is not what you expect in a violin recital, but it transcribes well for the higher instrument. Its Prélude was at once a tour de force, threatening to overshadow what followed.

Yet the jagged Allemande was equally engaging and Podger kept Bach’s different voices clearly apparent. The multiple-stopping of the stately Sarabande was followed by Bourrées, in which she played with the time, but tastefully, before delivering considerable fireworks in the volatile Gigue.

Biber’s Fourth Mystery Sonata, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which calls for scordatura (re-tuning of the strings), emerged as a brilliant set of variations, coolly navigated. Predictably, Podger offered some dazzling virtuosity along the way, notably in the outer movements of a Vivaldi sonata and in the concluding race for the tape of a Schmelzer sonata.

Caminiti shadowed her, if often understatedly, throughout but provided a good rhythmic foundation wherever possible. He also contributed several solos, especially a Piccininni toccata that made bold use of his bass strings and an intricate and delicate Toccata Arpeggiata by Kapsberger. He and Podger make a useful duo but not yet a great one.

Review by Martin Dreyer