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GRAMOPHONE (08/2012)
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Appréciation d'ensemble / Overall evaluation :

Reviewer: Duncan Druce

Podger in Holland for the 1727 ‘La Cetra’ set

La cetra (‘The Lyre’) was published in Amsterdam in 1727, dedicated to the Austrian emperor, Charles VI. (Confusingly, another manuscript set of 12 concertos, from the following year and likewise dedicated to Charles, are also called La cetra.) The familiar ingredients of Vivaldi’s concerto style are well established by this stage in his career; there are perhaps two or three concertos where the elements are put together in a rather superficial way but the set as a whole demonstrates Vivaldi’s remarkable ability to find continually renewed inspiration in writing for solo violin with string orchestra. (Just one work, No 9 in B flat, a spirited, airy double violin concerto, changes the setting.) My particular favourites are No 3, with its elaborate orchestral tuttis in the outer movements, No 5, which has an unusual, tempestuous character, the serious minded No 8, with its elaborate, sonorous writing for strings, and, perhaps best of all, the last concerto in B minor. One of two in which the solo violin plays scordatura (with non-standard tuning), it’s notable for its attractive melody and continual inventiveness. A few years ago I was impressed, listening to the Holland Baroque Society’s disc of music by Georg Muffat, directed by Matthew Halls (A/08), by their youthful verve. With Rachel Podger in charge, their enthusiasm is undimmed, and there’s a wholehearted commitment to projecting the character of each movement and to articulating the shape of every phrase. Even what might seem to be mundane accompaniment figures have an expressive nuance that gives positive support of the solo line. Podger plays with her customary beauty of tone, purity of timing and lively variety of articulation. Her melodic decorations in the slow movements give a delightfully unforced, spontaneous impression. The performances take a few liberties. I love the way that at the start of the First Concerto, the repeated chord pattern is extended backwards, providing a sort of ‘young person’s guide to the basso continuo’, as organ, harpsichord, double bass and guitar enter one by one. And Podger’s elaboration of the chordal introduction to the Fifth Concerto immediately establishes the work’s dramatic character. I’m not so sure about what sounds like a mandolin obbligato in the Largo of the Second Concerto (or is it just harpsichord?). It’s a delightful sound but draws attention away from the violin melody. Still, these are brilliant, energetic performances, full of genuine Vivaldian spirit and excitement.

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