Vivaldi 12 Violin Concertos
La cetra (The Lyre) is Vivaldi’s sixth and, to my mind, most consistently rewarding printed set of violin concertos. For 25 years a recording with Monica Huggett and the Raglan Baroque Players under Nicholas Kraemer’s direction has comfortably held sway. Now comes the first really competitive set with violinist Rachel Podger and the Holland Baroque Society.
Unlike some of her continental rivals Podger’s light bowing and well-judged tempos effortlessly discover the tenderly poetic content of Vivaldi’s music, and here that dimension is abundant. Two of the concertos, Nos 6 and 12, call for scordatura – altered – tuning of the solo violin enabling Vivaldi to achieve distinctive sonorities within an adjusted compass. Another, No. 9 of the set, is a double concerto for two violins where Podger is partnered by Judith Steenbrink. In each of these works and, indeed, throughout, the music sparkles with visionary enchantment, none of which is lost on artists as responsive to Vivaldian fantasy as these.
Podger’s playing radiates expressive warmth and we can only delight in the spontaneous rapport that she feels with the mature idiom of these wonderful concertos. The masterly B minor Concerto which concludes the set possesses a lyricism that sometimes insinuates itself stealthily upon our sensibilities. Such is the case with the third solo section of its first movement where the first violin of the tutti sustains a cantilena of mesmerising beauty, which is accompanied with arpeggios in the solo violin part. But why add in the gimmicky improvised prelude deriving from the bass line of the first seven bars of the opening movement of the First Concerto? It merges into Vivaldi’s music so you cannot even kill it off. Ugh!