Holland Baroque Society meets Rachel Podger: a CD review by Stanley Fefferman

Holland Baroque Society meets Rachel Podger: Antonio Vivaldi, La Cetra, 12 Violin Concertos. Channel Classics. 2 CDs

Vivaldi’s concertos are said to be written for entertainment. They are typically public music, out-of-doors music. The ritornello of the opening concerto, for example, is in C Major, suggesting a processional, a marching band on parade, the wheels of musical machinery turning to the beat of snare-drums . Rachel Podger’s solo violin skylarks high above all like an ecstatic bird.

But Vivaldi in his middle movements plumbs the depths, and the Holland Baroque Society with Ms. Podger draw the inner drama of the C Minor lamento with its bass continuo out into the open, before closing the concerto with a high-stepping, percussive dance movement.

Concerto No. 3 in G Minor is one of five Minor settings in this La Cetra, Op. 9 set of 12 that laces the prevailing mood of celebration with unexpected turbulence, introspection and depths of expression. The first movement of No. 5 in A Minor opens with a melodious adagio in harpsichord and violin, flips into an excited presto, followed by a largo movement as full of foreboding as the “Humming Chorus” from Madame Butterfly.

Concerto No. 6, though in A Major, is one of two works employing a ‘scordatura’ tuning that moves the music towards the ‘introvert and pensive’ style of drama. Concerto No. 12, Ms. Podger’s admitted ‘favourite’, is in B Minor and is, in her own words, “strong and powerful but feels fragile at the same time–the best of both worlds.” Speaking of two worlds, Concerto No. 9 in B flat Major is uniquely scored for two violins with Judith Steenbrink joining her virtuosity to Ms. Podger’s.

Holland Baroque Society meets Rachel Podger  is an album of great art by great artists. These 12 concerti, so varied in expression that one can enjoy them all in a single sitting, portray the drama of a public spectacle that is pried open to reveal private griefs, in a dignified manner that resolves them, so that public expression can be resumed with its integrity enhanced.

The sound of this recording is impeccable, celebrating the unique colours of the period instruments including lute, organ and harpsichord. I have it on good authority that the Channel Classic’s sound is  faithful to the acoustics of Amsterdam’s Waalse Kerk .

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