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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1638) [17:53]
Interrotte speranze, eterna fede (7th Book of Madrigals) (1619) [2.41]
Ecco di dolci raggi il raggi il sol armato (Scherzi Musicali) (1632) [2.15]
Si dolce e’l tormento (Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze) (1624) [7.33]
Ohime ch’io cado, ohime (Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze) (1624) [4.23]
Et e pur dunque vero (Scherzi Musicali) (1632) [6.08]
Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (Scherzi Musicali) (1632) [2.44]
Maledetto sia l’aspetto (Scherzi Musicali) (1632) [1.21]
Piu lieto il guardo (Arie de diversi) (1634) [5.06]
Tempro la cetra (7th Book of Madrigals) (1619) [7.21]
Tornate, o cari baci (7th Book of Madrigals) (1619) [2.42]
Eri gia tutta mia (Scherzi Musicali) (1632) [2.54]
Rolando Villazon (tenor)
Topi Lehtipuu (tenor)
Patrizia Ciofi (soprano)
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emanuelle Haim (organ, harpsichord; direction)
rec. Paris, Eglise Notre Dame du Liban, 18, 29-23 November 2005; Chapelle Notre Dame de Bon Secours, 19 May 2006
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0946 3 63350 2 5 [67.28] 


Emmanuelle Haim seems to have a penchant for working with singers who are not necessarily known for their work in the period performance field. The title role in her recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo was Ian Bostridge, who is not a singer primarily associated with Monteverdi. 

On this new disc Haim has taken this strategy even further, by casting operatic tenor Rolando Villazon as testo in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Villazon has not worked in early music before and is a newcomer to period performance practice. He has taken on board elements of the style and ornamentation required and his performance is, in some ways, astonishing. Though I suspect a singer more experienced in music of this period would have taken some of the ornamentation a little faster. 

Villazon is known for his expertise in 19th and early 20th century Italian opera, but his beautiful voice is obviously responsive to other styles and genres. But only to a certain extent; Villazon’s main concern seems to remain beauty of vocal tone. He sings in an open-throated manner with vibrato and though he sings with a good line, his manner is very much focused on the vocal sound. In this, he is only following what are probably the core elements of his grounding in 19th century performance practice. When his voice rises to its upper levels he opens it out in a manner which is entirely foreign to 17th century music.

When singing Monteverdi, words should be paramount. Villazon only succeeds in emoting in a rather general manner, singing in paragraphs rather than emoting individual words and phrases. Villazon is passionate and emotional, but lacks a feeling for the detail. Sheer beauty of tone is not what most listeners are looking for in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.

Villazon can undoubtedly be seductive, his performance of Si dolce e’l tormento is lovely, if you accept the anachronistic vocal style. 

There is another issue involved here, that of balance. Le Concert d’Astrée is a relatively small group (nine instrumentalists). All three singers perform in a rather operatic manner and when accompanied just by a few instruments, I felt that the voices were a little too dominant. 

The other singers on the disc, Topi Lehtipuu and Patrizia Ciofi, are both seasoned performers when it comes to 17th century music. But both move between the 17th century and later periods. This is especially true of Ciofi who includes Verdi in her repertoire. On this disc, both Lehtipuu and Ciofi seem to match their vocal technique a little towards Villazon’s which means that all the voices are well balanced. 

Lehtipuu has a far stronger feeling for the words and for the music’s line than does Villazon. The arias which Lehtipuu sings solo are amongst the best on the disc. His tone is less Italianate than Villazon’s and far more focused. 

Regarding Ciofi, I must confess that I was very disappointed. She seems to apply a rather uniform swooping and cooing manner to all of her items on the disc. This, combined with some smudgy fioriture makes her less than ideal. 

Besides Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda the disc includes a selection of arias and duets from Scherzi Musicali, Arie di diversi and the 7th Book of Madrigals. Villazon and Lehtipuu blend very well in their two duets, which is probably a compliment to the flexibility of Lehtipuu’s technique.

If you listen to Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano in this repertoire, both the singers and the players perform the music with a concentrated, dramatic intensity which brings out the inherent passion and drama in the piece in a way which is missing here. 

By all means buy this disc if you are interested in hearing how Villazon performs this repertoire. You get to hear how one of the 21st century’s loveliest voices sounds in this music, providing you can get beyond the vexed issue of performance style. 

Robert Hugill 

 

 



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