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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Madrigals Book Six and Miscellaneous Madrigals
Lamento d’Arianna [18:56]
Zefiro torna [4:19]
Una donna fra l’altre [4:03]
A dio, florida bella [5:30]
Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata [21:43]
Ohimè il bel viso [5:59]
Qui rise, o Tirsi [8:19]
Misero Alceo [6:58]
Batto, qui pianse Ergasto [4:59]
Presso un fiume tranquillo [7:07]
Io ardo sì [4:03]
Occhi miei [4:36]
Quante son stelle [1:54]
Se non mi date [2:11]
Prima vedrò ch’in questi prati [2:56]
O come vaghi [3:44]
Taci Armellin [3:42]
La mia turca [3:16]
Ohimè ch’io cado [4:34]
Si dolce è’l tormento [5:28]
Perché se m’odiavi [3:18]
Più lieto il guardo [5:51]
Lamento d’Arianna (1623) [11:53]
Delitiæ Musicæ/Marco Longhini
rec. Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, Azzago, Verona, 21-25 July 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.555312-3 [68:48+57:28] 


I made the mistake of coming to this 2-CD set of Monteverdi’s Sixth Book of Madrigals fresh from listening to the recent completion of the Eighth Book by Concerto Italiano and Ronaldo Alessandrini – a strong recommendation on Naïve OP30435, two reissued CDs and one new one at mid-price.  The Eighth Book is a more varied collection than the Sixth and Concerto Italiano make the most of that variety. 

With each new book Monteverdi moved away from the older style of madrigal, exploring new emotions: the two major pieces of the Sixth Book of 1614, Lamento d’Arianna and Lagrime d’amante are both extended laments and the shorter pieces also contain their fair share of ohimè and misero.  Add to this the fact that Delitiæ Musicæ consistently adopt slow tempi and, for all the beauty of their singing and clarity of the recording, this set hardly makes the ideal introduction to Monteverdi’s madrigals. 

The opening Lamento d’Arianna is the sole survivor of a lost Monteverdi opera, a work much imitated and adapted by Monteverdi himself and his contemporaries and successors: abandoned by Theseus, Ariadne laments her fate and longs to die, unaware that she has a surprise visit from Bacchus in store.  Of course it is meant to be emotional, but the performers here lose some of that emotion with their very slow tempo: 18:56 against Alfred Deller’s 16:14 on a 1956 Vanguard recording, still available on a CDR from Archivmusic, coupled with Il Ballo delle Ingrate, on which a number of luminaries made early appearances. The same applies to the rendition of Lagrime d’amante:  Roger Norrington takes 19:02 for this, Longhini 21:43.  Cantus Cölln under Konrad Junghänel, on a reissued Deutsche Harmonia Mundi CD, complete it in 14:12 without sounding rushed or losing the affective mood of the piece. 

Comparisons yield similar results for the other madrigals.  The first CD ends with Qui rise, o Tirsi, a happy madrigal : “here gazed on me fair Chloris … O happy memory, o joyous day.”  Longhini, at 8:19, sounds anything but happy; Junghänel at 5:08 is much more the ticket. 

Anticipating responses like these, Longhini seeks in his booklet notes to disarm criticism: these are longer works than those in the earlier books, “dedicated to expression, the power of music to touch us.”  Regretting “the current trend of favouring speed and agility of performance over expression” he has deliberately chosen slow tempi, though varied with agogic accents.  I read the booklet after hearing the performances and it does little to alter my response.  Indeed, as far as the agogic accents are concerned, I was more aware of the smoothness and beauty of the singing than of these.  The booklet is, however, detailed – so much so that it is hard to get it back into the jewel case – informative and scholarly.  (Longhini’s scholarship extends to employing older spelling – lacrime for lagrime, for example – I have employed the more usual spelling throughout this review.) 

Because of these slow tempi (over 88 minutes for the whole Book Six) Naxos fail to accommodate it on one CD, as is the norm.  This gives them the opportunity to include all the Monteverdi madrigals which appeared in collections other than his own eight books and to round off the second CD with Monteverdi’s 1623 reworking of the Lamento d’Arianna, both decisions worthwhile but more likely to appeal to scholars than to general music-lovers.

Earlier issues in this series have received positive but not ecstatic reviews on this site. I agree with Dominy Clements who, reviewing the Fifth Book, while praising the scholarly approach – male voices only, for example, even in the Lamento d’Arianna, which was performed in the opera by Virgina Ramponi – and the beautiful singing, found the results a little too ‘safe’.  I too feel the lack of “the one spark, that deep-seated molten core of ever-elusive Monteverdi passions which makes the spine tingle and the hairs on the nape of the neck re-align to magnetic north.”  In the nine years since the Fifth Book Monteverdi had developed this spine-tingling power further and its absence here is the more noticeable.  Good, but safe, is even less recommendable for Book Six. 

Dominy Clements found Alessandro Carmignani’s vocal colour rather hard to take.  I find myself reacting in the same way to his fellow counter-tenor Paolo Costa, especially in the 1623 solo version of Lamento d’Arianna: the big-screen version of the older madrigal according to the notes, but I preferred the earlier version. 

I have not heard the Concerto Italiano/Alessandrini version of this Sixth Book (Naïve OP30423) but, in the light of his other Monteverdi performances, cannot imagine that it is not first-rate – a CD on my current wish-list.  Ironically, even Naxos’s own website recommends it: Otherwise the newcomer to Monteverdi would be better served by starting with Book Eight, the pinnacle of his madrigal œuvre.  Here the listener is spoiled for choice: the complete book from Alessandrini (OP30435, 3CDs) or the Combattimento and Balli from Red Byrd/Peter Homan, a wonderful bargain from Hyperion Helios on CDH55165.  Kirkby et al on a Virgin Veritas bargain twofer (561570-2) are also well worth having. 

Virgin Veritas also offer a 7-disc bargain box drawn from various books: Emma Kirkby, Anthony Rooley et al on 562268-2.  One- or two-disc selections seem to be rather thin on the ground these days.  The Double Decca set of Books 4 and 5, with a few madrigals from Books 7 and 8 (Anthony Rooley, 455 718-2) is well worth having.  The reissued Cantus Cölln/Junghänel selection of Madrigali Amorosi earned its place as Bargain of the Month on this site in January 2003, though shorn of the texts and translations which graced its original issue. I thoroughly concur with Tony Haywood’s view that there is not a dud performance here and it sells for around the price of a single Naxos CD. (05472 77855-2).  Perhaps Eloquence would oblige by reissuing the recommendable Schütz Consort and Choir/Norrington on a single disc.  (Recently available only in an 8-CD collection which appears to be deleted).  Emma Kirkby and Evelyn Tubb with the Consort of Musicke and Anthony Rooley offer an excellent bargain recital of secular and religious pieces on Regis RRC1060; this probably offers the best introduction of all to Monteverdi for the uninitiated or even for those who know L’Orfeo or the 1610 Vespers and wish to explore further.

Brian Wilson



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