The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: Convincing performance of Vivaldi’s set of twelve violin concertos
Musicians: Rachel Podger (violin) Holland Baroque Society
Composer: Vivaldi

The undisputed prowess of this album’s personnel sets up high expectations, and these performances do not disappoint. Here, we have lively and animated playing, with all the hallmarks we expect of up-to-date Baroque performing practice – tidy articulation throughout, unimpeachable intonation, vibrant contrast and colour, and percussive accentuation, all recorded to a high standard by Channel Classics. I particularly enjoy the Third Concerto with its haunting middle movement and rumbustious finale, the well-matched sonority of the Ninth Concerto, in which Podger is joined to great effect by Judith Steenbrink, and the gloriously resonant B minor Twelfth with scordatura solo violin. Daringly illuminated dissonances (as in the slow movement of the Fifth Concerto) make sense of Vivaldi’s writing, in which artfully light textures and economy of thematic material demand an imaginative approach.

This said, I worry about the booklet note’s claims that the orchestra was ‘brought up with historical performing practice as [its] mother tongue’ and indeed its ‘letter’ to Vivaldi that claims that ‘the sound of Rachel Podger’s wonderful violin playing does remind us of your star pupil Anna-Maria’. At best this is naive and at worst arrogant – an unwelcome reminder of the ‘just as the composer heard it’ marketing of times past, perhaps. Podger and collaborators play supremely well here, but the listener must be reminded that this is a very modern construct. All the same, based on the performances alone, this is an exciting album delivering convincing performances to a consistently high standard.

David Milsom