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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Madrigali Concertati: Augellin, che la voce [3:57] Tornate, o cari baci [2:43] Ninfa che scalza il piede [5:01] Ecco vicine, o bella tigre [3:32] Eccomi pronta ai baci [2:17] S’el vostro cor, Madonna [4:04] Zefiro torna [6:17] Lamento della ninfa [6:30] Metre vaga Angioletta [9:32] Vaga su spina ascosa [2:56] Perché fuggi [3:04] Ogni amante è guerrier [14:44] Gira il nemico insidioso [5:10] Soave libertate [3:10]
Viveca Axell, soprano; John Potter, tenor; Douglas Nasrawi, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass.
Tragicomedia/Stephen Stubbs
Rec. Bartholomew’s Church, Oxford, Suffolk, England, 11-12 March; 19-20 April 1993. DDD
APEX 2564 60710-2 [73:36]


Now that Warner have taken all of their various classical labels and put them under one generic heading of Warner Classics, they are reissuing fantastic recordings at a blinding pace under their Apex banner. Perhaps this is an attempt to give Naxos a run for their money, and if this is the case, they will probably not succeed, as their repertoire is still not as extensive, varied or risky. Nonetheless, they are putting out a slew of very nice performances at a very nice price, and this disc of Monteverdi madrigals is a very fine choice indeed.

Claudio Monteverdi, who was the co-inventor of not only opera, but of the style of composition that would come to be known as baroque as well, was arguably one of music’s most original voices. Although he had students and imitators in the likes of composers as fine as Heinrich Schütz and Herrmann Schein to name just two, no composer until perhaps Mendelssohn was to have a method of combining voices to such utterly stunning effect. The selections on this disc come from the seventh and eighth books of madrigals. Differing widely from the traditional four to five part settings common at the time, these works are truly vocal concerti, scored for anything from one to six voices with basso continuo. They possess some of the most acrobatic and technically difficult vocal writing of any music written before or since. Of paramount importance to Monteverdi was his philosophy that music was the handmaiden of words, and not the other way round. He certainly achieved his goal in this spectacular and colorful music.

These performances by the members of Tragicomedia are superb in all respects. Of the many things that impressed me about this recital, it is perhaps the intensity charged singing of tenors John Potter and Douglas Nasrawi. Although both of these gentlemen are possessed of splendid and lovely instruments, they are not afraid to sacrifice sheer beauty of tone every now and again to achieve a heightened sense of drama. That is certainly not to say that their singing is in any way unattractive. Rather, it is to praise these singers for first and foremost using their instruments to serve the music, and to communicate it in a way that is not only delightful to the ear, but captivating to the mind and heart as well. These are truly singing actors, and their conveyance of these magnificent poems is attention grabbing at the least, breathtaking at its peak.

Viveca Axell turns in a simply ethereal performance of the haunting Lamento della ninfa, aptly accompanied by her male colleagues. And, lest I slight another fine singer, bass Harry van der Kamp is also practically without flaw. His picturesque text painting and his careful attention to the conveyance of the poetry is a rarity amongst a crop of ‘early music’ singers who often ignore musical expression for some idealized affected production technique that wears thin very quickly in most every case. More significantly, none of these singers fall into the typical trap that I like to call "monopretty," meaning that the listener is subjected to seventy plus minutes of the loveliest but utterly expressionless singing imaginable, all in the name of authenticity.

Apex have included a good program note and full texts and translations, a must for a recording of this type, and much appreciated. There is a problem however with the packaging in general though, in that the bright yellow cover with white minuscule type on the back plate is nearly impossible to read. Black ink is a good thing.

Excellent sound quality and a bargain price make this reissue a winner on all counts. Very highly recommended indeed.

Kevin Sutton



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