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IDAGIO Meets … Rachel Podger

The multi-award-winning violinist discusses her new Mozart album, featuring completions of the composer's fragments.

© Theresa Pewal

Period-instrument star Rachel Podger has teamed up with pianist Christopher Glynn to record Mozart fragments in completions by the Royal Academy of Music's Timothy Jones. She tells IDAGIO about the process and the challenges it posed.

You've already recorded Mozart's complete works for piano and violin, but how did this new project come about?

The connection comes through the Royal Academy of Music. Timothy Jones is Deputy Principal there and that's how I know him. Basically he just approached me and said: "Do you fancy recording these?" He knows every note of Mozart and has completed a lot of different works, so this project is just another in a very long list of things he's been working on.

Some of these are completions of really very short fragments, how do you think he managed to turn them into such convincing pieces?

He's just incredibly fluent in Mozartian language. When there are only 32 bars by Mozart, you've got to do a lot to complete even just the first half. And with some he actually invents complete second subjects – you've got to have a lot of confidence to do that! The most fascinating thing for me, though, is that he pushes the boat out a little bit in some of the completions, so you start to think: "Oh, actually, Mozart really could have gone in that direction, couldn't he?" And when, initially, I caught myself wondering whether Mozart would have written a particular passage here or there, it often turned out that it actually was Mozart! Which shows how brilliant Tim is, but also how much more there is to understand about Mozart.

There are different completions for the different fragments, how did you go about choosing which to include on the album?

That was completely up to Tim, in fact. He did four completions [for each fragment] and obviously we could only fit so many on an album. We thought it might get a little too nerdy if you have exactly the same piece four times in four different versions, and we wanted to make sure that it made a really nice rounded programme on the album. I had some input into how we ordered them, and we've basically got three movements twice, and then in the middle the C minor Fantasy, so there's a nice shape to it.

How was learning these completions different from learning a "normal"work?

In the end, the process of learning the music was just like learning anything else. I suppose the big difference was that it was new material, which was just so exciting. Everything else by Mozart we know well, and I have also, of course, recorded the complete sonatas with Gary Cooper, including some completions that [Maximilian] Stadler [1748-1833] did shortly after Mozart's death – one of those was of the B flat movement that we include here. At the time when we were doing that, back in 2006, though, I was aware that we were doing a completion, but somehow, because it was done in the 18th century, I wasn't really questioning it. I possibly should have.  

This project was different and learning the pieces was slightly complicated because of the pandemic, which meant we couldn't rehearse for a long time. Chris recorded his part and sent it across to me, and I played along with it. That was very nice just to get to know the pieces, but of course there's no give and take – it was all just take!

Has the project made you think differently more generally about Mozart's works?

Yes, absolutely. You just appreciate things in a different way, observing different characteristics and possibilities which he might have taken but didn't. You start to hear things that aren't there, and I think I'll be doing that much more in the regular sonatas I play now, and also the concertos. I was just playing a concerto for fun the other day, for example, and I caught myself thinking: "this is actually quite neat this piece, but he could have made this bit much wilder!" I mean, who am I to criticize? But I think that was because of this experience. 

Rachel Podger and Christopher Glynn at the recording sessions (photo © Andrew Wilkinson)

You've already mentioned some challenges rehearsing imposed by lockdown. Were there any difficulties when it came to making the recording itself? 

We were really lucky actually. We had a concert in King's Place in London at the start of November and it was very up in the air as to whether we'd be able to do it. We did a few other concerts around that time, too, including at the Cobb Collection, where Chris got to play some really early pianos. Then lockdown happened, but we were allowed to record because it was work. And in a way it was fairly straightforward: there were only five people there there –  the two of us, then the producer, sound engineer and piano tuner – and we were in a big church. But it was funny. After being deprived of making recordings, of doing concerts, of just being in the same room as other musicians, I thought it was going to be so overwhelming to play again. And it was, of course, but it's amazing how, when you get into the recording, you just go back into what you know. And I love recording anyway!  

Can you say something about working on the project with Christopher Glynn?

We've not been playing together for very long, about two years. He'd voiced an interest in earlier pianos, because he mainly plays modern pianos. So we just had a little try out and we got on musically very well. I was very keen to do Beethoven, and really get my teeth into that, and the plan was actually to get that out for last year – we'll actually be doing it in May now. But Chris is just really smitten with the early pianos, and just constantly discovering things that are possible – and also things that are not possible. That's really interesting for him – and for me. It brings out different things in my own playing and makes me reinvent things all the time. And that's something that is especially important in Mozart.

Rachel Podger's new Mozart album is out now. Explore her Mozart discography with Channel Classics's "Rachel Podger Plays Mozart" playlist.

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