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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643): "La dolce vita"

Dorothee Mields, sopranoa
Lautten Compagney
Dir: Wolfgang Katschner

rec: [n.d.], Berlin-Wannsee, St.-Andreas-Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985491572 (© 2017) (78'40")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Baci soavi e cari (SV 27)a [1]; Come dolce hoggi l'auretta (SV 173) [13]; Con che soavità (SV 139)a [5]; Confitebor tibi Domine (SV 193)a [12]; Dolcissimo uscignolo (SV 161)a [10]; Il Ballo delle Ingrate (SV 167) (exc) [10]; Io son pur vezzosetta (SV 121)a [5]; L'incoronazione di Poppea (SV 308) (act 2, sc 5)a; L'Orfeo (SV 318) (ballo); La piaga c'ho nel core (SV 82)a [2]; Lamento d'Arianna (SV 22 & 107)a [4/7]; Lamento della Ninfa (SV 163)a [10]; Laudate Dominum (SV 287)a [11]; O bone Jesu (SV 313)a [6]; Se vittorie, si belle (SV 149) [13]; Si dolce è il tormento (SV 332)a [8]; Vespro della Beata Vergine (SV 206) (Nigra sum)a [3]; Zefiro torna (SV 251)a [9]; Zefiro torna e'l bel tempo rimena (SV 108) [4]

Sources: [1] Madrigali, libro primo, 1587; [2] Il quarto libro de madrigali, 1604; [3] Sanctissimae Virgini missa senis vocibus ad ecclesiarum choros ac vesperae pluribus decantandae cum nonnullis sacris concentibus, 1610; [4] Il sesto libro de madrigali, 1614; [5] Concerto: settimo libro de madrigali, con altri generi de canti, 1619; [6] Ioanne Donfrido, ed., Promptuarium musicum Concentus ecclesiasticus, 1622; [7] Lamento d'Arianna ... con due lettere amorose in genere rapresentativo, 1623; [8] Carlo Milanuzzi, ed., Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1624; [9] Scherzi musicali cioè arie, & madrigali in stil recitativo, 1632; [10] Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, 1638; [11] Selva morale e spirituale, 1640/41; [12] Messa a 4 voci et salmi a 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 et 8 voci, concertati, e parte da capella, et con le letanie della B.V., 1650; [13] Madrigali e canzonette ... Libro nono, 1651

Friederike Otto, cornett; Martin Ripper, recorder; Birgit Schnurpfeil, Anne von Hoff, violin; Ulrike Paetz, viola; Ulrike Becker, viola da gamba, violone; Annette Rheinfurth, violone, double bass; Wolfgang Katschner, lute, theorbo; Hans-Werner Apel, theorbo, guitar; Mark Nordstrand, harpsichord, organ; Peter A. Bauer, percussion

The desire to commemorate a historical event, like the birth or death of a composer, can bring the best out of performers, but also the worst. The latter is the case with the disc to be reviewed here. A programme with sacred and secular pieces by Claudio Monteverdi should be very good; the composer has not written a bad note. However, the very fact that the whole programme is performed with just one singer already makes suspicious: there is not that much music in Monteverdi's oeuvre for a single voice. And if one looks at the programme, one feels that there must be something wrong. It opens with one of his most famous pieces, Lamento della Ninfa. Isn't this a dialogue between a soprano and three male voices? Indeed, it is. But never mind, Wolfgang Katschner thought: we just perform the parts of the two tenors and the bass instrumentally. Inevitably, the whole character of the dialogue goes out of the window.

This is only an omen of what is to come. The second piece is Io son pur vezzosetta, which is a madrigal for two sopranos and basso continuo. But why should we adhere to what Monteverdi had in mind? So Katschner decided that an instrument - cornett or recorder - should perform the second soprano part and that the strings should play ritornellos - something Monteverdi did not ask for. If that is not enough, Katschner added percussion, as he had already done in the Lamento della Ninfa. He severely suffers from percussionitis, and this virus has seriously affected the present recording.

The second section of the programme is devoted to sacred music. The first item is Confitebor tibi Domine, scored for soprano, five viole da braccio and basso continuo. The latter mostly play the ritornellos. Apparently Katschner believes Monteverdi is too moderate here, and added recorder and timpani, which partly also play along with the soprano. O bone Jesu is for two sopranos and basso continuo; again the second part is performed instrumentally, this time on the cornett. In such cases that could well be in line with performance practice of the time. I refer here to the way Schütz offers alternatives to the various roles in, for instance, his Weihnachtshistorie. It is very well sung, and so is Nigra sum from the Vespro della Beata Vergine. However, whereas the performers do far too much in most pieces, they do too little here as Dorothee Mields does not add any ornamentation. She does better in Laudate Dominum in this regard.

For the last section the performers return to secular music. The main item is the famous Lamento d'Arianna, the only extant fragment of Monteverdi's opera, which received its first performance in 1608. The popularity of the lamento resulted in a separate printed edition in 1623. Before that Monteverdi had arranged it as a madrigal for five voices, which he included in the sixth book of madrigals of 1614. For this recording Katschner made a mixture of both versions, which obviously is blatantly unhistorical. Here in the first and last section the various parts of the madrigal are performed instrumentally. This seriously undermines the predominance of the text, which is vital in this piece. The five-part madrigal La piaga c'ho nel core is performed the same way, which - according to Karl Böhmer in his liner-notes - was "a common practice in the 16th century". He is right, to some extent. It is true that during the 16th century vocal parts could be performed instrumentally. However, with this piece, and with the Lamento d'Arianna, we are not in the 16th century anymore. The closer the connection between text and music is, the fewer possibilities there are to perform parts instrumentally. That goes even for madrigals of the late 16th century, in which composers aim at depicting the text in the music. The Lamento d'Arianna is introduced by music from Il Ballo delle Ingrate, which is given a rather ugly performance, including several 'special effects', such as the strings playing col legno, the blowing of the wind (an effect known from opera), and the inevitable percussion.

From L'incoronazione di Poppea we get a short dialogue between Damigella and Valletto. Both roles are sung by Mields, another ridiculous decision which destroys the intention of the piece. The disc ends with Sí dolce è'l tormento, a piece for solo voice and basso continuo. Obviously that is not the way it is performed here. The cornett and the violin play ritornellos, which Monteverdi did not require, and at the end the ensemble joins Mields, turning this madrigal into a kind of ensemble piece. One can hardly be surprised that this goes at the cost of the intelligibility and communication of the text.

I have no problems with a creative approach to early music. After all, composers usually left much to the discretion of the performers, and some imagination might help to fill in the empty spots in the transference of early music to our time. There are two basic questions: does the imagination stay within the range of what we do know about performance practice in the composer's time? Does a performance bring us closer to the composer's intentions? With regard to this recording the answer to both questions is a firm: no. What is on offer here has basically nothing to do with historical performance practice. One wonders what motivates someone like Wolfgang Katschner to adopt such mannerisms in the performance of early music. And what makes Dorothee Mields take part in such projects? She is one of the most respected performers in the field of early music, but a project like this one is highly compromising.

However, one has to fear that in our time many people love this kind of stuff. It does not withhold me from reprehending it. Discs like these are a violation of everything historical performance practice stands for. Dorothee Mields may sing very well here - and she does indeed - but it is to no avail if it is part of an approach to early music which in no way does justice to what the composer intended.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Lautten Compagney

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