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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643): "Sweet Torment"

I Fagiolini; Barokksolistene
Dir: Robert Hollingworth

rec: Jan 27 - 29, 2009, Oxford, Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown
Chandos - CHAN 0760 (© 2009) (79'02")

Ballo delle ingrateabcdefghijklmprstuv [6]; Gira il nemico insidiosogijlq [6]; Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben?aclm [3]; Ohimè il bel visoacgij [2]; Or che 'l ciel e la terrabcghijlmos [6]; Questi vaghi concentiabcdeghijlmostu [1]; Si dolce è il tormentogln [4]; T'amo. mia vita!acgijlm [1]; Zefiro torna, e di soavi accentighlmq [5]; Zefiro torna, e 'l bel tempo rimenabcfgj [2]

Sources: [1] Il quinto libro de madrigali, 1605; [2] Il sesto libro de madrigali, 1614; [3] Concerto. Settimo libro de madrigali, 1619; [4] Carlo Minuzzi (ed), Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1624; [5] Scherzi musicali cioè arie, & madrigali in stil recitativo, 1632; [6] Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi ... libro ottavo, 1638

[I Fagiolini] Julia Doylea, Anna Crookesb, soprano; Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-sopranoc; William Purefroyd, Richard Wyn Robertse, Robert Hollingworthf, alto; Nicholas Mulroyg, Nicholas Hurndall Smithh, tenor; Eomonn Dougan, baritonei; Charles Gibbsj, Jonathan Sellsk, bass; Eligio Quinteiro, chitarrone, chitarrinol; Joy Smithm, Frances Kellyn, harp; Steven Devineo, Terence Charlstonp, harpsichord; Catherine Pierron, harpsichordq, organr
[Barokksolistene] Bjarte Eike, Peter Spissky, violins; Torbjörn Köhl, Fredrik From, violat; Thomas Pitt, bass violinu
Fiona Ritchie, David Sterling, timpaniv

Claudio Monteverdi is one of the composers who played a crucial role in music history, and whose oeuvre never ceases to fascinate performers and audiences alike. A concert with music by Monteverdi can always be expected to be sold out. There seems to be no weakness in his oeuvre, as least not as far as we know it. Some of his compositions have been lost, like his opera Arianna, and the only surviving fragment, the famous Lamento d'Arianna, suggests this is a great loss indeed.

This disc is the third in a series with music by Monteverdi which Chandos has recorded with the English ensemble I Fagiolini, which consist of singers and a group of continuo players. For this recording it is joined by the Barokksolistene, a group of period instrument string players. I haven't heard the first two volumes of this series, so for me it was the first time I heard I Fagiolini in Monteverdi. I vaguely remember having heard them in a recording of a live performance which was broadcast by BBC Radio 3, which I didn't particularly like.

I have no idea what the reasoning behind the programme on this disc may be. It seems a pretty arbitrary selection of pieces from Monteverdi's large oeuvre, concentrating on the later part of it, which was published in the time the new concertante style had made its entrance. But Monteverdi never completely departed from the style of the late renaissance as the two 5-part madrigals from the 6th book show. It is rather odd that they are performed here without the basso continuo part. More 'modern' in a way are the two pieces from the 5th book, Questi vaghi concenti which is for 9 voices with strings and bc, and T'amo mia vita for five voices. The latter's juxtaposition of the soprano and the four other voices gives this piece a somewhat theatrical character.

In his 'director's note' Robert Hollingworth states that he thinks this disc is the first which contains both settings of Zefiro torna. That may be true, but I fail to see the significance as the texts are different, and from different poets. The poem by Rinuccini, Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti, may be a homage to Petrarch, who wrote Zefiro torna, e 'l bel tempo rimena, but musically the direct comparison between the two settings doesn't have much significance.

Rinuccini's poem is set for two voices with basso continuo, and so is Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben? from the 7th book of madrigals. Si dolce è 'l tormento is a strophic piece in four stanzas for solo voice and bc. The most dramatic madrigals by Monteverdi are those of the 8th book, Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi. Here the boundary between madrigal and opera are sometimes erased, as in particular the last work on the programme, the Ballo delle Ingrate shows. It was originally written in 1608 and performed under the title of Mascherata delle Ingrata. This version has been lost; only the text has survived. As far as the music is concenred, we only have the music which Monteverdi composed to a revised version of the text in 1638. In this recording the Ballo delle Ingrate is performed on the original text. Those parts which Monteverdi never set or which he omitted in his version of 1638 are set between brackets in the booklet.
I find this decision rather odd. It is quite possible that Monteverdi drastically reworked his composition of 1608 for the revised text of 1638, but how much and exactly what was changed we will never know. This version is pure speculation. And as we don't know how Monteverdi has set the text of 1608 it doesn't increase in any way our knowledge of Monteverdi's compositional style.

The popularity of Monteverdi's music is reflected in the number of recordings on the market. This means every new disc meets strong competition. I don't know every single Monteverdi disc, but even so I doubt whether this disc by I Fagiolini is able to compete with what is already available. In particular various interpretations by Italian ensembles are difficult to surpass.
The direct comparison of the two pieces from Book 6 with the performances of Concerto Italiano show that the latter are really way ahead of I Fagiolini. In these pieces as well as in the rest of the programme the singing and playing on this disc is generally bland and dynamically too flat. As a result the performances are boring. The voices - in particular the lower - don't blend that well which is partly due to the use of vibrato. Moreover the singing is sometimes a bit pathetic, like in Si dolce è 'l tormento. The basso ostinato in Zefiro torna, e di soave accenti is underexposed because it is too much messed around with, in particular by the harp. Gira il nemico insidioso may be "witty", as James Weeks states in his liner-notes, that shouldn't encourage the singers to add some "wit" of their own. The result is a caricature.

In short, I can't find any argument to recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

I Fagiolini

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