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Vivaldi La Stravaganza Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Virtuoso baroque violinist Rachel Podger and the young Polish period instrument group...

Andrew McGregor 2003

Anyone who's ever entertained the idea that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto five hundred times doesn't deserve to hear this disc. But if they did, they'd be left in no doubt whatsoever as to the idiocy of that old saw; they'd also have been exposed for over an hour-and-a-half to some of the most exhilarating baroque string playing around at the moment.

Rachel Podger's fiddle-playing is never remotely routine, and often astonishing not just for sheer virtuosity, but also for the way she moulds Vivaldi's phrases, finding musical shape in even the most mundane-looking chord sequences. OK, so that 'five-hundred concertos the same' crack is contemptible, but even in a set as entertaining as La Stravaganza some concertos are more equal than others, as George Orwell might have put it. In other recordings of Vivaldi's Op. 4 you're made aware that one or two of the concertos lack inspiration alongside the brilliant invention of the rest of the set, but these performances never allow you to come to that conclusion - everything fizzes with such energy and passion you can't take your ears off it for a moment.

Podger leads the young Polish period instrument group Arte dei Suonatori from the violin, and they revel in each others company; one moment she seems to be goading them into ever more virtuosic displays and frighteningly fast tempos...the next they threaten almost to overwhelm her, to whirl her away with them in a torrent of notes, even trample her underfoot. The continuo group of archlute, guitar, theorbo and keyboard is pretty powerful, and despite the fact there's only one bass player, the way the bass line blooms and booms in the Polish church sometimes swamps the detail, but that apart its a vibrant, lively recording.

If it seems as though I've been blown away by the fast and the furious, that's only partly true. The slow movements of these twelve concertos offer some of the highlights of the set for me, some truly lovely playing and heartfelt musicality, accompanied with great sensitivity - for example try Nos 11 or 12. For the sheer genius of Vivaldi's imagination No. 8 would be a good place to start, and if you want to hear just how wickedly wild this lot can be in Vivaldi, try the finale of No. 4.

Just one warning: you might not want to listen to the whole set in one sitting. Each individual concerto has the balm of a slow movement to balance the heat of the outer movements, but when a fiery finale leads to an incendiary opening Allegro after just a few seconds break, it's like finding yourself in an Indian restaurant with a mouthful of chilli and nothing with which to damp down the fires. Mind you, I love spicy food...

Like This? Try These:
Telemann: Fantasties for Violin Solo (Rachel Podger)
JS Bach: Violin Concertos (Jaakko & Pekka Kuusisto)
Corelli: Violin Sonatas (Andrew Manze)

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