Vivaldi: La Cetra - Rachel Podger, Holland Baroque Society

Vivaldi: La Cetra - Rachel Podger, Holland Baroque Society

Channel Classics  CCS SA 33412 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid


Vivaldi: La Cetra Op. 9

Rachel Podger
Holland Baroque Society

At a time when Bach, Telemann and Handel were still young, in the early 18th century, Venice was nothing less than a musical magnet, and its greatest attraction was the raging, virtuosic violin playing of the priest-cum-composer Antonio Vivaldi. His performance was even recommended to tourists in a city guide dating from 1713. Inspired by such enthusiastic stories about this violin marvel, numerous musicians from all over Europe made their way to Venice to receive lessons from the master. In February 1715, for example, the Frankfurt lawyer and impresario Uffenbach attended an opera in the Teatro Sant’Angelo: ‘ Towards the end Vivaldi played a solo, most admirable. Finally he gave an improvisation, which brought about a great shock in me. For things like this are really unplayable, now and in the future. His fingers came within a hair breadth of the bridge, so that hardly any space remained for the bow, and he played unbelievably fast fugues on all four strings.’ Uffenbach wrote later: ‘After the meal, the celebrated composer and violinist Vivaldi visited me, which I had often urged him to do. I spoke to him about several concertos that I wanted to obtain from him and I ordered them. I had some bottles of wine brought for him. He improvised in a most complicated manner on the violin, truly inimitable. At such close sight I could admire his dexterity even better. I realised that he played extremely difficult and varied pieces, but in a manner neither pleasant or cantabile.’

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DSD recording

Recorded Amsterdam Holland in September 2011 & January 2012
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - May 13, 2012

When back in 2003 Rachel Podger's recording of Vivaldi's 12 violin concertos Op.4 'La Stravaganza' Vivaldi: La Stravaganza - Podger/Arte Dei Suonatori was released it was universally acclaimed and quickly went on to garner numerous awards from many sections of the music press including Gramophone, Stereophile and The Absolute Sound as well as winning a Diapason d'Or. It is also interesting to note that even on more than one hundred people have recommended that recording. In the intervening years Rachel Podger has widened her recorded repertoire to make further highly regarded recordings of works by Bach, Haydn and Mozart, but she has now made a triumphant return to Vivaldi with this wonderful set of the composer's 12 Violin Concertos Op.9 known as 'La Cetra' (“The Lyre”).

Dedicated to the Emperor Charles VI and published by Le Cène in Amsterdam in 1727 this set of 12 Violin Concertos represents some of the finest works of the composer's maturity. The richness and diversity of these 12 concertos is astonishing, and one can only marvel at the sheer level of inspiration displayed in each of them. One particularly interesting aspect of 'La Cetra' is that two of the concertos (RV348) and (RV391) – here the final concerto on each of the two discs – employ the use of 'scordatura', a retuning of the solo instrument's strings to produce changes in sonority and allow figurations to be played that would not otherwise be possible.

On her recording of 'La Stravaganza' Rachel Podger was accompanied by the fine baroque orchestra Arte Dei Suonatori, but here, as the disc's title indicates, it is the marvellous Holland Baroque Society. Perhaps unsurprisingly in each and every one of these performances there is a sense of total rapport between Rachel Podger and the players of what is arguably the finest and certainly most versatile European period performance group. Besides the usual strings the continuo includes lute, harpsichord and organ and even the delicate sound of an ottavino spinet in the slow movement of RV345. Just try the opening of the first of these concertos (RV181a) to experience a little of the wide range of colour on offer on these superb recordings.

Rachel Podger gives as authoratative and accomplished accounts of the solo parts as one could wish for. The vitality and freshness of her playing in the fast movements is a joy, as is the sweetness of her sound in Vivaldi's lovely cantabile largos. Of course, virtuosity is also present in abundance, though there is never any sense in revelling in it for its own sake. Eleven of these concertos are scored for solo violin, but the ninth concerto in the set (RV530) is scored for two violins, and here Rachel Podger is joined by Judith Steenbrink whose playing is seamlessly matched to her partner in the lovely 'Largo e spiccato' of this concerto.

One of the great delights of this set is that because each of the concertos is so varied in character and the performances are so captivating, one can happily listen to all twelve in a single two-hour sitting without the slightest manifestation of ennui ever creeping in.

Channel's sonics on this 5.0 DSD recording taped at sessions in September 2011 and January 2012 definitely justify the often over-used term 'state-of-the-art'. The 2003 'Stravaganza' set was recorded in a church in Poland, a reverberant venue that perhaps emphasised the bass end of the spectrum a little too much. For this new recording Jared Sacks has located to the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam whose ideal acoustic for this style of music allows for a cleaner more open and balanced sound. The sense of air round the instruments is palpable whether one is listening in stereo or surround. The two SACDs are attractively presented in a double digipak and the liner notes include Rachel Podger's thoughts on both the music and working with the HBS. An amusing letter to Vivaldi by Judith Steenbrink “On behalf of the musicians of the Holland Baroque Society” completes the package.

There is little doubt that this thrilling set will soon grace the shelves of the Venetian master's admirers world-wide and it is certainly one of my discs of the year.

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and


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