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I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Podger performed Vivaldi's La Cetra

Vivaldi Concertos The cover of this recording reminds me of the earlier Podger release on the same Channel Classics label of La Stravaganza. My first double CD set of Vivaldi's op. 4 came from Monica Huggett with the Academy of Ancient Music (Simon Standage, too, recorded that set with the English Concert in the late 1980s). Standage then joined the AAM around 1989-90 to record La Cetra under Hogwood's direction. I grew up with my Vivaldi, basically, from either Pinnock or Hogwood's direction. Podger is a generation younger than Huggett or Standage, and later of course took over Standage's role with the EC before Andrew Manze replaced Pinnock. The difference here, then, I guess is the back-up band, Holland Baroque Society. Who? Looking at their website, they appear to be perhaps a generation removed from Podger, perhaps the perfect situation with the more experienced violinist as soloist and director, and a younger generation behind her to support with energy. The benefit of our time, the microphones, or the acoustics in Holland certainly make Podger's release the more "full" and "rich" sounding than the earlier release by Standage and AAM. So, if you're like me and have an older recording of Vivaldi's op. 9, this might be the one to replace it on your shelf. Using strummed continuo, for one, helps with that sound thing a lot. The youthful energy I spoke of, comes across occasionally, too, such as in the d-minor concerto's third movement. I'd add that I think the guitar player is really a fan of this concerto, and Podger sounds like she's having fun, too. But despite the age difference between the two recordings, Podger is timid about injecting too many dynamic changes into the lines as the soloist. She's no Biondi, in that regard. Like her reading, too, of op. 4., this one blurs the sound of the band with heavy reverb. But under her direction, the team knows how to offer dynamic contrasts. Listen to the final movement of the a-minor concerto, no. 5. I always liked Standage's reading of op. 9, in fact, I thought it was among his best as a soloist (his reading of the Four Seasons with Pinnock was also strong). Podger betters the earlier recording, mostly through a more-expressive take on the whole lot of concertos through her direction. If this was your only reading of Vivaldi's ninth published opus, you'd have a gem. That said, it's not a perfect recording or reading. A few points: 1. When you're recording a big set of concertos, I'm always a fan of diversifying your approach. As a case in point, the size and make-up of your back-up ensemble. There is some debate whether or not a full compliment of continuo instruments would always have been used, i.e., violone (double bass), harpsichord, organ, and bass lutes. It not only diversifies the entire set for a complete listening, but offers different interpretive perspectives. 2. In a few movements, I wished the tempo would have been pushed; typically these are in the opening Allegros. 3. The "wet" acoustic is not ideally suited to headphone listening. The sound quality works better on speakers, but I simply prefer a drier, studio sound. Some of the aforementioned tempo choices may be because of the space in which they performed. We simply don't get the pleasure of looking up and around in a cathedral when listening. Compared to his op. 4 and 6 concertos, I think by the time he got to op. 9 Cetra (the Lyre), Vivaldi was once again inspired.

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