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Christopher Hogwood, who died in 2014 aged 73, was a seminal figure in the period-instrument movement of the 1970s and 1980s; his performances and recordings with the Academy of Ancient Music and the ensemble he founded in 1973 were acclaimed for their radical freshness and the repertoire they explored.

Before his death, Hogwood had been working with Decca Classics on re-issues of many of his recordings on the L’Oiseau- Lyre label, repackaged into slimline cardboard sleeves and released in five clamshell boxes.

Christopher Hogwood devoted so much of his time and efforts in the area of Baroque music to Bach and Handel — and his recordings of those composers’ works invariably attracted the most attention of his output — that this large collection of Vivaldi recordings comes as somewhat of a surprise. It’s a cornucopia of thrilling recordings, and a firm riposte to any wag who might suggest that Vivaldi simply composed the same concerto time and time again.

The opening discs are given over to the L’Estro Armonico op. 3 set of concertos, with the glittering talents of John Holloway, Monica Huggett, Catherine Mackintosh and Elizabeth Wilcock as soloists; the five-movement F major concerto, no. 7, is a particular highlight here (an added bonus later in the box is Bach’s famous arrangement of the B minor concerto from L’Estro Armonico for four harpsichords). The 12 concertos of La Stravaganza, op. 4, receive strong performances, as do the op. 6 violin concertos with Andrew Manze as soloist and the op. 12 collection with Pavlo Beznosiuk.

The highpoint of the collection is Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, op. 8: hearing the first four concertos — better known as The Four Seasons — surrounded by their companion pieces makes one wonder why it should be that they alone have gained such a popularity. Vivaldi’s particular talent is, I feel, primarily rhythm-based, in that his feel for harmonic rhythm and how best to vary it is what gives his works sparkle — and nowhere is that more obvious than in this collection.

Stephen Preston’s flute concertos, op. 10, include a scintillating ‘Tempesta di Mare’, and Christophe Coin gives us exquisite performances of nine cello concertos and three of the sonatas. After this comes a collection of concertos for more unusual combinations of instruments — did you know that Vivaldi wrote a concerto for two oboes and two clarinets? I certainly didn’t — which reveal some wonderful riches, including three bassoon concertos in which Danny Bond is an outstanding soloist.

As with the box-set of Hogwood’s Bach recordings, vocal works take up only the very end of the collection, but they’re worth persevering for. Emma Kirkby is radiant in the two cantatas ‘Amor, hai vinto’ and ‘Nulla in mundo pax sincera’, but it’s James Bowman’s ravishing performances in the Stabat Mater RV 621 and the Nisi Dominus RV 608 that are to die for.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing