Rachel Podger's Baroque Encounters of the Stylish Kind

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Don't allow yourself to think for a moment that this is just another Vivaldi concerto collection cut from a familiar block. The English violinist Rachel Podger and the Holland Baroque Society, a young period-instrument ensemble, join forces in Vivaldi's Opus 9, "La Cetra," (The Lyre), the dozen flashy, harmonically spicy violin concertos that the composer prepared for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI.

Podger became to known to many American listeners through her affiliations with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and previously, the English Concert, where she was concertmaster from 1997 to 2002. She put her stamp on Vivaldi in 2003 with a critically praised recording of the composer’s “La Stravaganza” concertos. 

Nearly a decade later, Podger has taken on Vivaldi's weirdest concertos. And yet the performances are not eccentric. Neither overfed and ponderous like old modern-instrument recordings, nor aggressive and edgy as is the current fad, Podger’s interpretation is generally middle ground. It's well tuned, and supported by a richly varied continuo of archlute, theorbo, guitar, organ and harpsichord.

Yes, there are the signature rushing scales and striding arpeggios of Vivaldi, but these largely avoid the “wallpaper music” cliches that have sometimes dogged this composer’s small, easily digestible pieces. The most hair-raising moments in the set come in No. 12 in B minor, which, as Podger explains in this video, feature some enjoyable strange, haunting and ethereal tunings.

Rachel Podger Vivaldi/La Cetra
Vivaldi: La Cetra / Podger, Holland Baroque Society
Available at Arkivmusic.com