Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
La Cetra - 12 Violin Concertos Op. 9
Concerto No. 1 in C major RV 181a [9:52]
Concerto No. 2 in A major RV 345 [9:18]
Concerto No. 3 in G minor RV 334 [10:35]
Concerto No. 4 in E major RV 263a [10:50]
Concerto No. 5 in A minor RV 358 [8:18]
Concerto No. 6 in A major RV 348 [11:34
Concerto No. 7 in B-flat major RV 359 [8:12]
Concerto No. 8 in D minor RV 238 [9:22]
Concerto No. 9 in C major RV 530 [9:13
Concerto No. 10 in G major RV 300 [9:06]
Concerto No. 11 in C minor RV 198a [9:44]
Concerto No. 12 in B minor RV 391 [11:18]
Rachel Podger (violin)
Holland Baroque Society
rec. September 2011, January 2012, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS SA 33412 SACD [60:29 + 56:56]

This is a real dose of the good stuff, and from the outset you know you’re in for a great time with this recording. This is evidenced by generously orchestrated harmonies, a swinging rhythmic drive and deliciously empathetic solo lines in the Allegro which kicks off the entire collection in the Concerto No. 1 RV 181a. Those lines are simultaneously virtuoso and superbly attuned to the chamber music feel of the entire ensemble.
Rachel Podger hasn’t recorded Vivaldi for a while, and this set is primed and ready to sit next to a Gramophone Award winning La Stravaganza recorded not much short of ten years ago (see review). I don’t own this set but you can rest assured it is going straight onto my wish list on the strength of this La Cetra set. Channel Classics has a knack of providing just the right proportions of warmth and detail in their recordings of baroque repertoire. This SACD production goes a step further, creating an aural picture of sparkling transparency and using the Waalse Kerk acoustic to provide a sense of space and air in the sound which is bewitchingly convincing. It’s appropriate that these works are recorded in old Amsterdam, as this was the very place which was one of the main centres for music publishing in Vivaldi’s time, La Cetra being printed there in 1727. The setting which the excellent Holland Baroque Society gives to these pieces is strong in lute sounds as part of the continuo forces, the title La Cetra referring to the cittern or lyre. There is also a nicely balanced harpsichord presence. The occasional appearance of a baroque guitar not listed in the credits but appearing in some of the session photos adds a fine saltarello feel where appropriate.
Vivaldi’s music is hugely entertaining, and sounds as good here as you will hear it anywhere. The sheer simplicity of something like the Largo from the Concerto No. 3 RV 334, which has a gentle Purcell-like bass supporting an intimate but eloquently expressive solo, is jaw-droppingly lovely. The swift movements are full of energy and life, not only through the verve in the playing, but deriving from a thorough knowledge and expression of gesture in the phrasing and accents. This is a place safe from the ubiquitous Four Seasons, but with as much fun to be had, if not quite as much pictorial extravagance in the composition. There is plenty of suggestive writing however, and if you are looking for barking dogs then there is a very big one in the first movement of the Concerto No. 4 RV 263a. The playing here elevates these concertos to an equivalent level to Vivaldi’s best, and if you’ve never explored beyond the Four Seasons this is a terrific place to start. The Concerto RV 358 which we encountered in Nicola Benedetti’s excellent disc (see review) is stretched into even more exotic places by Rachel Podger, who leans on its dissonances with a delicious sense of danger.
These are performances well up to the standards set by performers such as Ottavio Dantone, and in some ways more appealing, having in general a less earnest feel. There’s just enough of a greater sense of Vivaldi’s audience-appeal, sense of fun and communicability to make us realise all the more the reasons for his super-star status in his own time. The merest brush with these recordings leaves us panting for more, which was just how things must have been in the early 18th century.
Dominy Clements 

Exquisite and great fun - just as it should be.