*VIVALDI: l’Estro Armonico – 12 Concertos for Violins and String Orch. – Brecon Baroque/Rachel Podger, v. & director – Channel Classics ( 2 discs)

*VIVALDI: l’Estro Armonico – 12 Concertos for Violins and String Orch. – Brecon Baroque/Rachel Podger, v. & director – Channel Classics multichannel SACDs (2 discs) CCS SA 36515, 96:54 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (3/10/15) *****: 

In the year 1711, Antonio Vivaldi’s star was on the rise, and not only in his native Venice. With the publication of the concerto collection known as l’Estro Armonico, he suddenly found himself in the European spotlight; in virtually no time at all, editions had been printed in both London and Paris, and even J.S. Bach arranged some of them for organ, and for keyboard and strings. The noted German composer Johann Joachim Quantz described them as “completely new, they made no small impression on me.” While there has been some debate over the translation of the title of the collection, which could be taken as “musical rapture,” there is no doubt that the music obviously had a rapturous effect on eighteenth century Europe!

The Brecon Baroque is Rachel Podger’s own ensemble, which she admittedly styled after the Café Zimmermann ensemble that Bach himself directed. The music of Vivaldi requires an impressive level of virtuosity, but the sheer brilliance of the Brecon Baroque’s  playing and their fervor for the music seems to impart a near-contagion among audiences, their reaction so overwhelmingly enthusiastic! I own a number of recordings that feature Rachel Podger, and she seems to have a difficult time concealing her absolute love of the baroque repertory – this set is no exception.

Rachel Podger is something of a superstar in classical music – a rarity these days, and truly encouraging to those of us who still love and follow the genre. Hopefully this bodes well for the future of the classics, which at times seems perilously on the edge, if one is to believe the often worrisome press revolving around some of the big orchestras and their precarious financial situation. It’s unsettling to say the least, but with truly dynamic artists like Rachel Podger serving as the new generation of ambassadors of the genre, hope does spring eternal!

Vivaldi has this undeserved reputation of recycling the same melodies over and again throughout his works. I find that nothing could be further from the truth with these remarkably diverse concertos for one, two and four violins. And despite having heard countless recordings of these works, none in my travels approach the level of sheer joy and vitality that one takes from the listening experience presented by these excellent SACDs from Channel Classics. The recordings were made in the St. John the Evangelist Church in Upper Norwood, London, and Jared Sacks and company have done another splendid job in immersing the listener in a truly “you are there” experience – surround sound just doesn’t get any better or more joyful than this. Very highly recommended!

—Tom Gibbs

on this article to AUDIOPHILE AUDITION!

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