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Recordings

Claudio Monteverdi.  Madrigals Book 5
10 Sep 2007

MONTEVERDI: Madrigals (Book 5)

This installment in the ongoing series of Monteverdi madrigal recordings from Marco Longhini and Naxos presents distinctive performances of works that lie close to the heart of the early baroque style.

Claudio Monteverdi. Madrigals Book 5

Delitiæ Musicæ; Marco Longhini, Director.

Naxos 8.555311 [CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

Monteverdi’s Fifth Book of Madrigals (1605) famously contains the music that sparked the polemic between Giovanni Maria Artusi and Monteverdi, a polemic that gave rise to Monteverdi’s famous articulation of baroque style as a “second practice,” rooted in the service of the text. That which Artusi’s conservatism could not license was, in light of the new aesthetic, amply warranted by the way it impassioned the words. Accordingly, in these madrigals one encounters both gestures of polyphonic declamation and harmonic freedom, rendering the words audible and affectively rich.

Longhini has chosen to perform these works with male singers only, noting that sacred contrafacta for a number of the madrigals exist—the sacrality making women singers problematic—and that Padre Martini in the eighteenth century preserved a low transposition for the madrigal, “Cruda Amarilli.” Certainly a transposed versions sung by male ensemble is a viable option, though given the prominence of female singers associated with the madrigal repertory in northern Italian courts, it is easy to see that it is only that. In this particular case, the low tessitura of many passages proves well suited to the affective dolor of the text, as the pain of unrequited love takes on added darkness and gravity with the low range of the voices. And the low passages offer a welcome chance to appreciate the profundity of bass Walter Testolin. However, the use of a male falsettist on the top part, even in transposed versions, requires high register ease. Counter-tenor Alessandro Carmignani seems at times constrained, with a shallow tone quality the result, though singing with a practical lightness and a stylistic sensitivity.

One of the more singular madrigals in the collection is “Ah, come a un vago sol,” a work with alternating full and reduced textures, the latter featuring ornamental figuration. These more virtuosic passages are rendered with flair, and the madrigal as a whole is passionately sung. In other madrigals there is occasionally the sense that control and subtlety keep other impassioned opportunities at bay, but the control remains impressive nonetheless.

Particularly impressive, as well, is the sound of the instrumental ensemble. Be it the rich sounds of “pluckery” in basso continuo, the beguiling sonority of the lirone, the improvised interludes connecting madrigals, or the finely contoured sinfonia of the the final “Questi vaghi concenti,” the instrumental contribution to the sublime sounds of the recording is a major one. Delightfully so.

Steven Plank

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