RACHEL PODGER violin with VOCES8 vocal ensemble

Wednesday 12 April 2023 8pm

A Guardian Angel

Rachel Podger is the ‘unsurpassed British glory of the Baroque violin’, established as a leading interpreter of the music of the Baroque and Classical periods. Formerly leader of the Gabrieli Consort, the English Concert and Guest Director of the OAE, Rachel is the founder and Artistic Director of the Brecon Baroque Festival.

She is joined by the British vocal ensemble VOCES8, known for their extensive repertoire, performed a capella, with impeccable quality and meticulous timing and tuning. For this concert Rachel and VOCES8 have resurrected their highly successful 2018 collaboration, which was podcast to Ilkley in 2020, in which they share their versatility in a celebration of works which range from the medieval to the present day, all reflecting in different ways on matters angelic, this time with an Easter twist.

REVIEW BY Chris Skidmore

An unforgettable experience

VOCES8 is the leading British a cappella choral group whose collaboration with baroque violinist, Rachel Podger has broken new ground in combining voices with the violin. Last Wednesday they brought their joint programme – A Guardian Angel – to an expectant King’s Hall. The hall was filled not only with members of Ilkley Concert Club but a cappella enthusiasts from all over the north who had, earlier in the day, enjoyed an inspiring singing workshop from the group. In no way did this performance disappoint!

The evening began with Rachel Podger alone on stage, spotlighted in a darkened hall, while the group sang, from outside the hall, Gibbons’ motet Drop, drop, slow tears and a perfectly executed piece of plainchant. Rachel then played the Biber Passacaglia which inspired the programme, holding us all spellbound with her agile and accomplished playing. Finally they came together on stage, sometimes alternating choral singing with solo violin playing but at others magically combining, the violin not so much accompanying the singers as adding an extra voice to the ensemble.

Every audience member will have had their favourites at this concert but your reviewer particularly cherished the smooth romanticism of Mendelssohn’s Denn er hat seinen engeln from Elijah; the gutsy positivity of Angelus ad virginem and the more modern idioms of Jonathan Dove’s The three kings and the works where violin and choir came together by James Macmillan and Owain Park.

VOCES8 have been described as the ‘Rolls-Royce of British a cappella ensembles’, a metaphor which amply illustrates the smoothness of tone achieved by these eight voices who seem to breathe as one. In contrapuntal music, such as Tomkins setting of When David heard, individual voices do emerge to make clear the movement of the inner parts and in antiphonal music, the two choirs are easily distinguished. But this is a collaboration in which Rachel Podger’s violin is an equal and her technique is equally flawless, able to produce magical piannisimi from her ‘re-barocked’ 18th century violin as well as the ability to cut through the vocal lines where necessary. A Guardian Angel is not only an innovative programme but an immersive experience, and in this case, an unforgettable one!