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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643

[I] Il Quarto Libro dei Madrigali
La Dolce Maniera
Dir: Luigi Gaggero
rec: Jan 2013, Berstett, Eglise protestante
Stradivarius - Str 33963 (© 2013) (55'48")
Liner-notes: E/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Ah dolente partita, ah fin de la mia vita (SV 75); Cor mio, mentre vi miro (SV 76); Cor mio, non mori? (SV 77); Sfogava con le stelle un infermo d'amore (SV 78); Volgea l'anima mia soavemente (SV 79); Anima mia, perdona a chi tè cruda - Che se tu se'il cor mio (SV 80); Luci serene e chiare voi mincendete (SV 81); La piaga c'ho nel core donna onde lieta sei (SV 82); Voi pur da me partite, anima dura (SV 83); A un giro sol de' bell'occhi lucenti (SV 84); Ohimè, se tanto amate di sentir (SV 85); Io mi son giovinetta (SV 86); Quel augellin che canta sì dolcemente (SV 87); Non più guerra pietate occhi miei belli (SV 88); Sì ch'io vorrei morire hora ch'io bacio amore (SV 89); Anima dolorosa che vivendo (SV 90); Anima del cor mio poi che da me misera me (SV 91); Longe da te, cor mio, struggomi di dolore (SV 92); Piagn'e sospira e quandi caldi raggi (SV 93)

Source: Il quarto libro de madrigali a cinque voci, 1603

Cécile Lohmuller, Silvana Torto, soprano; Candice Carmalt, mezzo-soprano; Damien Brun, alto; Stéphan Olry, tenor; Benoît Rameau, bass

[II] "Love and Loss"
James Gilchrist, tenora
Dir: Jonathan Cohen
rec: March 11 & 13 - 15, 2013, London, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb
Hyperion - CDA68019 (© 2014) (70'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E

Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (SV 153)a [3]; Ohimé, dov'è il mio ben (SV 40) [2]; Ohimé il bel viso (SV 112) [1]; Or che'l cielo e la terra (SV 147) [3]; Sestina: Lagrime d'amante al sepolcro dell'amata (SV 111) [1]; Volgendo il ciel - Movete al mio bel suon, ballo (SV 154) [3]; Zefiro torna e'l bel tempo rimena (SV 108) [1]

Sources: [1] Il sesto libro de madrigali, 1614; [2] Concerto: settimo libro de madrigali, con altri generi de canti, 1619; [3] Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo ... Libro ottavo, 1638

Anna Dennis, Katherine Watson, soprano; Tim Mead, alto; Samuel Boden, Thomas Walker, tenor; Callum Thorpe, bass; Rebecca Miles, Rebecca Prosser, recorder; Simon Jones, Bojan Cicic, violin; Rebecca Jones, viola; Joseph Crouch, cello; Erin Headley, lirone; Jonathan Manson, viola da gamba; Tim Amherst, violone; Frances Kelley, harp; Thomas Dunford, lute; Jonathan Cohen, harpsichord

The oeuvre of Claudio Monteverdi takes a special place in the history of music as it documents the transition from the prima prattica to the seconda prattica. His early compositions reflect the former whose main feature is polyphony. That continues to play an important role in his oeuvre; the Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610 bears witness to that. But that same work also includes music in the modern concertato style, in the form of sacred concertos for solo voice(s) and basso continuo. They are based on the ideals which were propagated by Giulio Caccini in which the solo voice was the main instrument to communicate the text and the emotions it embodied.

The madrigal was one of the main genres in Monteverdi's time. His own contributions to this genre are an illustration of the development in the style of composing in his time. The first four books with madrigals, published between 1587 and 1603, include madrigals for voices alone, which are treated on equal footing, without an additional basso continuo. The fifth book of 1605 is the first in which the voices are supported by basso continuo. That was also the case with the books which followed, in 1614 (book 6) and 1619 (book 7) respectively. The 6th book was the first which was published after Monteverdi was appointed maestro di cappella to San Marco in Venice. The madrigals are still for an ensemble of voices; in the 7th book Monteverdi introduced pieces for one or several solo voices, some of them with participation of instruments, as the title Concerto indicates.

The fourth book may be written in the stile antico and counterpoint may play an important role here, but at the same time they reflect the modern ideas of the connection between text and music in the interest of expression. There are many examples of a vivid depiction of the text in the music. One of these is A un giro sol de' begl'occhi lucenti, in which the second line - "The air all around becomes animated, laughing" - is eloquently illustrated, and so are words in the next lines, such as "sea", "winds" and "heavens". The closing madrigal, Piangn'e sospira, begins with a chromatic ascending figure, used to express the text: "She weeps and sighs". Very effective are the many repeats of "ohimè" in the fifth line of Ohimé, se tanto amate. The closing line of Voi pur da me partire is reminiscent of Gesualdo's madrigals. That hardly comes as a surprise as Monteverdi here more or less follows the latter's concept: the integration of the expression of the stile nuovo in the texture of the stile antico.

The expressive features of Monteverdi's madrigals of the fourth book are underlined by the interpretation of La Dolce Maniera. The madrigals are all sung with one voice per part; the voices blend perfectly and much attention has been paid to the delivery. The articulation is very precise, and the prosody of the words and the rhythm of the text are painstakingly observed. The performances also include strong dynamic shading which is immediately demonstrated in the very first item, Ah, dolente partita. Here the sopranos sound a bit stressed at the top notes which makes parts of the text rather hard to understand. But that is virtually the only moment that they seem not completely comfortable. Otherwise these are very impressive and highly expressive interpretations of Monteverdi's fourth book of madrigals. It would be nice if the ensemble would record other books as well.

With the second disc we are in a different world, so to speak. It is the world of the stile nuovo, and the madrigals are written in the expressive style which had become the standard in the early decades of the 17th century which also saw the birth of opera. To the latter genre Monteverdi contributed his L'Orfeo, and in the eighth book of madrigals of 1638 he even crosses the line between madrigal and opera. Over the years his madrigals become increasingly dramatic; the famous Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is the most eloquent illustration of this development. In the sixth and seventh books he experiments with different combinations of voices, such as two sopranos in Ohimé, dov'è il mio ben. Ohimé il bel viso is for five voices and basso continuo, but the ensemble is split into two groups: the two upper voices take a more or less soloistic role.

The music may be different from that of the fourth book in several ways, but they include at least the same amount of expression, or even more. That doesn't quite come off in Arcangelo's performance. The battle scene in the Combattimento is a pretty tame affair. James Gilchrist doesn't do too badly as the testo, but I would not go so far to say that he masters the art of recitar cantando. His performance is rhythmically not free enough, and there is a lack of dynamic shading. The latter is a feature of the whole recording, and that not only concerns the singing, but also the playing. That comes immediately to the fore in Volgendo il ciel, and Merula's Ciaccona which is inserted between the first and second part.

The voices don't blend perfectly, especially due to the vibrato of one of the sopranos. In Ohimé, dov'è il mio ben one of them sings with vibrato, the other without. I find that very odd, and I don't understand why this was not corrected. Sestina is probably the most satsfying part of this disc, but even here some sections suffer from a lack of coherence in the singing.

The latest madrigal books are most often recorded, or at least pieces from them. That means that this disc has to deal with considerable competition, and I don't think it is quite up to it. It is not bad, but the performances are just not dramatic enough and rather short on expression.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

James Gilchrist
La Dolce Maniera

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