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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Madrigali amorosi (from the late madrigal books c.1614-19)
Sestina, Lagrime díAmante al Sepolcro dellíAmante; Ninfa che scalza il piede;
O come sei gentile; Lamento della Ninfa; Tu dormi; Síel vostro cor, Madonna;
Ohime dove il mio ben; Alle danze; Ohime il bel viso; Zefiro torna; Non e il gentil core; Qui rise Tirsi; O mio bene; Soave libertate.

Cantus Cölln
Gerald Hambitzer (harpsichord)
Konrad Junghänel (lute and director)
Recorded in the Sendesaal des Deutschlandfunk, Köln, 21-24 September 1992 DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 05472 77855 2 [67í08]
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Having caught the superb six-strong vocal group Cantus Cölln a couple of years ago at the York Early Music festival, I was looking forward to hearing this selection, recorded in the early 90s, of late Monteverdi masterpieces. The first thing to say is that the recording, whilst very full-bodied and well balanced, was made in the studio and given something approaching artificial reverberation, presumably to give us the feeling of being in a spacious, church-like acoustic. It is reasonably successful, though hi-fi buffs or those (like me) who often listen on high quality headphones, may find the sound a bit sterile and lacking in the last degree of atmosphere.

The second and much more important gripe, is the lack of any texts or translations. I know itís a familiar refrain these days from reviewers, but the truth is that with these particular madrigals, as much as any I can think of, the absence of the words robs us of a major dimension of appreciation. Monteverdiís response to his texts is one of the revolutionary features of the music, and his subtle and justly famous word painting is lost on us if we donít know what he is actually setting! Other budget seriesí (Apex comes to mind) manage to provide texts, and in Baroque and Renaissance vocal music it is, to my mind, an absolute necessity. Hopefully, future incarnations will redress the omission.

Enough of the carping. The actual performances are truly excellent, with Monteverdiís multi-layered settings, original vocal colours and subtle word play all brought out with impeccable taste and musicianship. The big, 15-minute setting of Lagrime díAmante that opens the disc has a sumptuous 5-part vocal texture and instrumental accompaniment (plus interpolations) that cover enough dramatic contours for a small opera. The beauty of the alternating 3-part soprano line that opens Tu dormi is well realised, a mixture of dexterity and extreme purity giving the music the desired ethereal quality. Monteverdiís new fondness for variations on ostinato bass models came from folk music and instrumental improvisation. His madrigals constantly exploit these practises. Thus we find in a piece like Ohime dovíe il mio bene the composer delighting in splitting up the group into contrasting sections, a highly virtuosic tenor line being set in dialogue with a soprano duet, all superbly performed here.

In fact, there is not a dud amongst the performances, and I canít think of any better disc at budget price with which to get to know these marvellous works. You can certainly but with confidence on the artistic front and maybe, like me, go hunting for the texts from libraries or the web. We really shouldnít have to do it, though.

Tony Haywood

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