Armonico Consort with Rachel Podger
St Mary’s, Warwick
Who are we to complain when a generous host offers not one sumptuous feast but two?
The Armonico Consort provided a splendidly large helping of the stunning choral music of Francesco Scarlatti which would have filled the table on any other night, in addition to which a pleasingly full audience had the treat of a breath-taking pair of violin concertos from the peerless Rachel Podger.
To start with the violin concertos, there are few players around who can impart such beautiful touch and such undimmed vigour to these sprightly pieces as Rachel Podger. For some reason she often seems to be referred to as Britain’s finest – as if, naturally, there are stronger players beyond these shores. There aren’t.
With wit and humour she led from the front in two concertos supported by the Consort’s excellent players who clearly enjoyed the flair and flourish of this music as much as she did, and we did. Vivaldi sounded like Vivaldi and Bach like Bach only somehow fresher, more edgy, more alive than ever before.
There was a sense of edginess too in the Consort’s performance of two works by – as the promoters would have it – the forgotten Scarlatti, Francesco. Two works written in 16 parts showing a level of musical invention bewildering when examined close up and utterly stunning when heard in full flow.
Armonico’s sixteen singers were divided into four quartet choirs and the magnificent acoustic of St Mary’s allowed every nuance of cleverly interwoven melody and harmony to come at us from all angles. Scarlatti opts to vary the combinations too in this compelling music, and full-on polyphonic assaults are balanced by quartets for basses alone, or for others across the four choirs. Add in some excellent trumpet interventions from Peter Mankarious and the support of fine playing elsewhere and this was a rare piece which should not stay rare for too long.
Under Christopher Monk’s tight control it all worked perfectly of course, though it’s fair to say the hard work lay in balancing all sixteen voices to create such a perfectly blended sound.
The evening could not be allowed to pass without mention of the fact that these works, the subject of much discovery and promotion by the Consort, will form the content of their next recording. It could have no better advert than this memorable concert.
The Armonico Consort celebrates its 20th anniversary season with a full range of concerts. Visit armonico.org.uk for details of concerts, recordings and bookings.