HAD violinist Rachel Podger not become a musician – perish the thought! – she could have had a starry career as an actress.

Leading her brilliant octet, Brecon Baroque, from the front, she smiled, frowned, raised her eyebrows, opened her mouth, pursed her lips, swooped and danced. Her face reflected her myriad moods; the singing she left to her instrument.

This was a Vivaldi night, The Glories Of Venice, kicking off this year’s York Early Music Festival. Even the sole Bach concerto was one he had borrowed – embellished – from Vivaldi, who wrote well over 600. It gave a spotlight to the dexterous harpsichord of Marcin Swiatkiewicz.

A rarity was Vivaldi’s only concerto for lute, where the spritely Daniele Caminiti engaged in a memorably witty duo with cellist Alison McGillivray.

Truthfully, though, it was Podger’s show. She delivered eye-watering rapidity in the outer movements of Il Grosso Mogul (a possible tribute to the Indian court), separated by a wonderfully free-ranging cantilena. That, and an extraordinary, complex cadenza, made Vivaldi sound a century ahead of his time.

And so to Le Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons). Could Podger have anything new to say about such a time-worn piece? Silly question. The sun shone more brightly, the storms raged more fiercely, the villagers danced more vigorously (and drunkenly), the insects bit more mercilessly, the birds trilled more sweetly – and winter was way below zero. Podger – and Brecon Baroque – didn’t miss a trick. Thrillingly three-dimensional.