Notes and Editorial Reviews
In the disc's liner notes we're urged to judge Vivaldi's place "in the pantheon of great baroque composers" on the "stand-alone quality of his music" and not on errant or offhand claims of this or that musicologist. Well, owing to violinist Rachel Podger's stunning, fiercely energetic, ardently expressive, and technically assured performances and the ravishing orchestral support from the Polish period-instrument ensemble Arte Dei Suonatori, our task as listeners certainly is an easy and prodigiously enjoyable one. And that's not all the good news: this is truly one of those sonic "events" where the performers have an almost palpable presence, their sound is absolutely
faithful and natural, and the balances are right on. Go ahead and turn this one up--you'll be immediately bathed in glorious, vibrant string sound, and be pleasantly surprised by the potential of Vivaldi's music to actually hold your undivided attention for an hour--maybe more.
Although these concertos are rarely recorded (there was a fine Monica Huggett/Academy of Ancient Music recording on L'Oiseau Lyre from 1987, and a less-satisfying recent traversal by Andrew Watkinson and the City of London Sinfonia on Naxos), it certainly can't be for lack of really great music. Yes, if you need proof that Vivaldi indeed was a master, a genius of seemingly unlimited melodic and rhythmic resource, who knew how to wring maximum effect (and affect) out of a minimum of harmonic materials and instrumental forces--then listen carefully. From the more familiar (and instantly appealing) concertos in E minor (No. 2) and A minor (No. 4), things really get interesting in the later works (Disc 2), where Vivaldi seems to be experimenting with ever more adventurous solos and unusual colors and harmonic changes in the orchestra.
In the F major concerto (No. 9) we find the steady, irresistible, foot-tapping beat in the first movement--typical Vivaldi--and in the Largo we're in relatively comfortable territory with a pseudo-improvisatory violin breaking away from the insistent accompaniment. The furious final Allegro is a tour de force for both soloist and orchestra--one that grabs our attention and doesn't let go. But not long into the following concerto (in C minor) we find ourselves on another planet--surprising harmonic shifts, uneven phrase lengths, and a positively weird and wonderful Adagio, led by a pensive, eloquent violin solo--that if nothing else vanquishes those who would label Vivaldi as unoriginal or redundant. The gorgeous Largo of the D major concerto (No. 11) is another highlight, its evocative mood ideal for a film scene or soundtrack theme.
There are countless moments and movements that stand out for their energy, excitement, catchiness of melody, or urgency of rhythmic flow, but ultimately the success of this outstanding recording owes to the facile, committed playing and the superior sound engineering, without which we might be inclined to pass over yet another among the hundreds of Vivaldi titles in the catalog. But we'd be missing something very special--a welcome remedy for a serious gap in the repertoire, and a likely addition to a number of "best discs of the year" lists.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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