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Brilliant Classics

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643)Madrigals
Madrigali Erotici e Spirituali
Track details below
Consort of Musicke: (Emma Kirkby (soprano), Evelyn Tubb (soprano), Mary Nichols (alto), Andrew King (tenor), Joseph Cornwell (tenor), Simon Grant (bass), Gabriele Micheli (organ)) (1)
Concerto Italiano: (Cristina Miatello (soprano), Marinella Pennicci (soprano), Gloria Banditelli (alto), Claudio Cavina (alto), Giampaolo Fagotto (tenor), Pietro Sapagnoli (bass)) (2)
Ensemble Concerto (3, 8)
Capella Mauriziana (director Mario Valsecchi) (3)
La Ninfa – Cettina Cadelo (soprano) (6)
Amore – Alessandra Ruffini (8)
Venere – Claudi Nicole Bandera (8)
Plutone – Giovanni Faverio (8)
Una delle Ingrate – Cattina Cadelo (8)
Cettina Cadelo (soprano) (7)
Vincenzo Manno (tenor) (6, 7)
Emanuele de Cecchi (tenor) (6)
Carlo Gaeia (tenor) (7)
Giovanni Faverio (bass) (6)
Rosita Frisani (soprano) (5)
Manuela Custer (mezzo-soprano) (4)
Ensemble Are-Musica (4, 5)
Anthony Rooley (director) (1)
Rinaldo Alessandrini (director) (2)
Roberto Gini (director) (3, 8)
Francesco Cera (director) (4, 5)
Recorded: Palazzo Te, Mantua 1992 and Forde Abbey, Dorset, 1993 (1)
Bologna 1989 (2)
Sala dei Vasari S, Michele in Bosco, Bologna 1988,1989 (3)
Chiesa Parocchiale di Magnano, Biella, Italia, 1999 (4, 5)
San Giorgio in Poggiale, Bologna, 1998 (6, 7, 8)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99710 [6CDs: 61.09 + 51.23 + 65.22 + 70.19 + 52.52 + 64.44]

Quel augelin che canta (4th Book of Madrigals) (1)
Qui laudes (1)
Sfogava con le stele (4th Book of Madrigals) (1)
O stellae (1)
Armato il cor (Scherzi Musicali) (1)
Heu bone vir (1)
Parlo misero taccio (7th Book of Madrigals) (1)
Longe, mi Jesu (1)
Pianto della Madonna (1)
Piange sospira (4th Book of Madrigals) (1)
Plorat amare (1)
Si ch’io vorrei morire (4th Book of Madrigals) (1)
O Jesu, mea vita (1)
Io mi son giovinetta (4th Book of Madrigals) (1)
Rutilante in nocte (1)
Madrigali Sui Testi del Tasso

Donna, ne mio ritorno (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
S’andasse Amore a caccia (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Dolcemente dormiva la mia Clori (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Non si levava ancor l’alba novella (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
E dicea l’una sospirando allora (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Ardo si ma non t’amo (1st Book of Madrigals) (2)
Ardi o gela (1st Book of Madrigals) (2)
Arsi et alsi (1st Book of Madrigals) (2)
Vivro fra I miei tormenti (3rd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Ma dove, o lasso me (3rd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Io pur verro (3rd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Non sono in queste rive (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Se tu mi lassi (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Dolcissimi legami (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Mentr’io mirava fiso (2nd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Vattene pur, crudel (3rd Book of Madrigals) (2)
La tra I sangue e le morti (3rd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Poichella in se tomo (3rd Book of Madrigals) (2)
Piange sospira (4th Book of Madrigals) (2)
7th Book of Madrigals

Symphonis Tempor la Cetra (3)
A Quest’Olmo (3)
Non e di gentil core (3)
O come sei gentile (3)
Io son pur Vezzosetta (3)
O viv fiamma (3)
Vorei Baciarti (3)
Dice la mia Belissima Licori (3)
Ah che non si conviene (3)
Non vedro mai le stele (3)
Ecco Vicine o bela Tigre (3)
Perche fuggi (3)
Tornate (3)
Soave libertate (3)
S’el vostro cor Madonna (3)
Interotte speranze (3)
Augellin (3)
Vaga su spina ascosa (3)
Eccomi pronta a i Baci (3)
Parlo miser o taccio (3)
Tu dormi (3)
Ah Lume dale Stelle (3)
Con che soavita (3)
Ohime dove il mio ben (3)
Se i languidi miei sguardi (3)
Se pur destina (3)
Chiome d’oro (3)
Amor che deggio far (3)
Tirsi Clori Ballo (3)
Scherzi Musicali (1632), Lamento D’Arianna, Lamento D’Ottavia

Lamento d’Arianna (4)
Maledetto sia l’aspetto (5)
Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (5)
Eri gia tutta mia (4)
Ecco di dolci raggi (5)
Et e pur dunque versio (5)
Zefiro torna (4, 5)
Armato il cor (4, 5)
Si dolce e’l tormento (4)
Perche se m’odiavi (4)
Ohime cho’io cado (5)
La mia turca (5)
Lamento d’Ottavia (4)
Lamento della Ninfa (6)
Combatimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (7)
Il Ballo delle Intrate (8)



For many years, the Consort of Musicke virtually defined the performance style for Monteverdi’s madrigals. The first disc of Brilliant’s Monteverdi Madrigals compilation is devoted to the Consort’s 1994 disc of erotic and spiritual madrigals. It is very much a known quantity as the Consort is revisiting madrigals that they recorded in the 1980s. Here they are in stunning form; technically assured, stylish and elegant yet more impassioned than in early records. Though for some tastes, perhaps, they are still a little cool, too self-possessed and too English, but their musical shaping of the text is so beautiful that it seems rather churlish to ask for more.

The disc was originally issued on Anthony Rooley’s Musica Oscura label and consists of some fascinating pairings of erotic madrigals with their sacred contrafacta. The madrigals were so popular that it is perhaps inevitable that someone would try and reclaim them for religion. Here the original texts, which are rather steamy and quite theatrical, are transformed into devotional, Christian pieces. So that Parlo miser’o taccio from the 4th Book of Madrigals, becomes Longe, mi Jesu. The author of the new words has been quite imaginative in his transformation of metaphors, so that the battle in the realm of love in Armato il cor (from the Scherzi Musicali) becomes a fight to repulse the devil. And the young, laughing girl of Io mi son Giovinetta becomes a choir of rejoicing Angels.

Perhaps the most remarkable transformation is Pianto della Madonna which is a sacred version of the Lamento d’Arianne. Because of its length, Pianto della Madonna is recorded on its own, without the original version, whereas all of the other madrigals are pairings of the erotic madrigal and its sacred contrafactum.

One could not hope to have a better introduction to this repertoire. These are performances which are stylish and musically stunning but retain a power to move and to thrill with their controlled but passionate delivery.

The leaflet prints only the original Italian or Latin words as is to be expected in a super-budget disc; but more disturbingly there is no explanation whatever of the inter-linking sacred/secular nature of these madrigals. Surely, if Brilliant really want people to explore this repertoire they could have dropped some hints about these madrigals’ duality.

With the second disc in the set we go back in time, to 1989 but leap forward in performance style. Whereas the first disc was recorded by a mature and distinguished group, this second disc was recorded by a young Italian group. Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano are one of the new groups who have helped redefine our ideas about Monteverdian performance style. The cool, perfection of the Consort of Musicke is very far away. This recording dates from quite early in the group’s career and pre-dates their more famous Monteverdi outings. The disc is a survey of Monteverdi’s settings of Tasso. From the First Book of Madrigals comes the lovely interlinked trio of Adro si ma non t’amo, Ardi o gela and Arsi et alsi, one of Monteverdi’s first attempts at creating an extended musical form using linked madrigals. They include 10 madrigals from the Second Book; this dates from around the time Monteverdi moved to Mantua and the influence of Giaches de Wert is quite strong. Rather surprisingly, Concerto Italiano do not include the most famous Tasso setting from the group Ecco mormorar l’onde. With the selection of 6 pieces from the Third Book of Madrigals we reach Monteverdi’s classic madrigal style. The texts concentrate on Tasso’s epic poem ‘Gerusalme Liberata’ and his settings are expressive and chromatic.

Concerto Italiano take a more forthright view of this music. The performances are perhaps not as sophisticated as some of their later recordings, but there are many virtues of their very text-based performance style; after all here we have Italians singing in Italian. The sophistication and blend of The Consort of Musicke is replaced by immediacy and vividness. There are the occasional technical blemishes and the recording is slightly too close and dry and inevitably a group of young singers, no matter how talented, cannot quite reproduce the responsiveness of an ensemble as mature as The Consort of Musicke. An interesting comparison is the last item on Concerto Italiano’s disc, Piange sospira, their only item from the Fourth Book of Madrigals (this book concentrates on Guarini settings) which is also sung by the Consort of Musicke. The Consort’s performance is controlled, strong on musical virtues with a superb line but still plangent and expressive. Whereas Concerto Italiano give us a richer, more strongly voiced performance. But there is less sense of line, less sense of a homogeneous ensemble and moments when the performance is perhaps not quite as musically perfect at the Consort’s performance. They do however make much more of the text, which is vividly coloured and the result is highly dramatic.

The 3rd and 4th discs are taken up by a complete performance of the 7th Book of Madrigals by another Italian group, the "Ensemble Concerto" directed by Roberto Gini. This book of madrigals was published in Mantua in 1619 with the general title of Concerto. Though some monodies are included, this book is mainly devoted to chamber duets which require virtuosity from the singers. The larger scale works contrast ensemble sections with solos and duets.

These performances were recorded in 1988 and in some respects the recordings show their age. The opening Symphonia Tempro la Cetra is characterised by a big-boned, rich string sound and the unnamed tenor is superbly open throated with a remarkable falsetto extension, but the total effect still succeeds in being vivid and rather stylish. The following 6 part ensemble, A Quest’Olmo sounds almost choral in texture, though admittedly Gino gets a very fluid performance from his ensemble. The attention to the text is rather disappointing and the same is true of the pieces for 2 solo sopranos. Non e gentil core also rather lacks passion. In Io son pur Vezzosetta the two soprano soli achieve a more intimate, confiding tone but the performance has the odd rough edge and tuning problems. The two male altos (none of the soloists are named) in Vorei Baciarti sing with a rather tenorish tones. The tenors themselves in their duets contribute vividly robust performances with stronger attention to the text than heretofore. In the trio S’el vostro cor Madonna the tenors are joined by a rather grainy bass and the tenors do display some unsteadiness. But this disc of this pair ends with a vividly vigorous performance by the two tenore of Interotte speranze a setting of a sonnet by Guarini.

Anyone wishing for an ideal performance of the 7th Book of Madrigals had better look at performances by the Consort of Musicke or Concerto Italiano. The performance here, though not ideal, has its charms and provides a fine introduction to the work.

The 4th disc of the set (the second of the complete performance of the 7th Book of Madrigals) is devoted mainly to the more multi-part pieces. The trio Augellin is typical of much of this group’s work here, it lacks the musical polish and sophistication of better known groups. But their vivid performance has the virtues of freshness and spontaneity. Some people will be bothered by the occasional technical problems; in Tu dormi they display some rather smudgy passage work and the quality of the solo voices in pieces like Parlo miser o taccio and Al lume delle stele is not always ideal. But I rather enjoyed the spontaneity of the performances, their lack of a studied air; also, when the group is on form, they bring a fine attention to the text. Parlo miser o taccio is also sung by the Consort of Musicke. Where the Consort’s three women give a crisp, stylish performance with lightly touched in passagework combined with an affecting expressiveness, the two women and one man of Concerto Italiano are more deliberate, richer voiced and with attention to the text giving a darker, more dramatic version.

In the concerto for solo voice and instruments Con che suavita, the tenor’s fine performance is rather over spot-lit for my tastes, I could have wished he had been given a better balance with the string parts rather than relegating them to a discreet accompaniment. This piece, to a text by Guarini, alludes to monody as the solo alternates with the instrumental choruses. Though here sung by a tenor, I had understood that the piece was written for a soprano. In Ohime dove il mio ben is a romanesca in which the two sopranos spin beautifully expressive dissonances over a repeating bass line.

Siei languidi miei squardi and Se pur destina e vole are the two true monodies in the set. These are two love letters and the score describes them as being acted. In Siei languidi miei squardi the soprano has a voice quality somewhat reminiscent of Cathy Berberian and she gives a detailed and affecting performance. Her vocal quality is notably for its fragility and the rather romantic way she shades off her voice; I could have wished for more intensity. The tenor soloist in Se pur destina e vole also gives a fine understated performance.

Chiome d’oro is a cheerful attractive piece set off by some crisp ritornelli. It is perhaps more familiar in its later guise as the Beatus Vir.

The disc finishes with the ballo Tirsi e Clori which was written in Mantua and performed there in 1616. It is a short dialogue madrigal for two singers and strings, Tirsi is a well characterised tenor soloist who contrasts nicely with the soprano’s limpidly beautiful Clori. The whole concludes with lively choral finale compensates for its roughness round the edges by being robust and vivid.

The sixth disc is devoted to the Scherzi Musicali from 1632 framed by two laments, those of Arianna and Ottavia. The 1632 Scherzi Musicali contain a group of simple strophic songs for voice and continuo along with some superb works using the form of variation over a ground bass.

The disc opens with the Lamento d’arianna which dates from 1608 and is the only survivor from the complete opera. It is sung by Manuela Custer who has a rich, dark, mezzo-soprano voice with more than a hint of vibrato and she gives a strong, big-boned interpretation of the piece.

The first of the Scherzi Musicali, Maledetoo si la’spetto, introduces Rosita Frisani who has an attractive, rich soprano voice. she makes the most of her words but in Quel squardo sdegnosetto, with its attractively varied stanzas over almost identical bass lines, her passage-work is disappointing. Frisani opens Ecco di dolci Raggi with a beautifully shaped vocal line which contrasts well with her vivid delivery of the later verses. Her delivery in Et et pur dunque vero is again vivid and dramatic; here she is joined by a crisp violin solo.

The outstanding work in the collection is the great ciaccona for two tenors, Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti, whose text is a sonnet modelled on the Petrarch sonnet already set by Monteverdi in the 6th book of Madrigals. The majority of the piece uses repetitions of the same ground bass. Here it is sung by the two sopranos whose virtues are mainly dramatic. They deliver the text well and give strong performances but their lines need more shape, they have a tendency to bulge, and the passagework is smudgy.

The other duet, Armato il Cor is common to this disc and to the Consort of Musicke’s disc. Where the tenors of the Consort give us stunning virtuosity combined with a stylish performance full of controlled passion, the two women here give a performance which is richer, bigger boned. Though not musically perfect, there are more words and more passion and with their bigger voices this version is altogether punchier.

The disc concludes with a powerful performance from Custer of Ottavia’s lament from L’Incoronazione di Poppea. This is a piece that can take Custer’s full-blooded drama, but many will prefer a smaller-scale, subtler performance.

Again, the performances on this disc are not ideal ones, but they have the virtues of a strongly delivered text and attention to the drama of the pieces.

For the final disc in the set, Roberto Gini and Ensemble Concerto reappear with three works. Lamento della Ninfa, Il Combatimento di Tancredi et Clorinda and Il Ballo delle Ingrate. They are from the 8th Book of Madrigals, which was published in Venice in 1638, though Il Combatimento was written for private performance in 1624 or 1625 and Il Ballo delle Ingrate was written for performance in 1608. These are dramatic works so they respond very well to the drama of Ensemble Concerto’s performances. I can imagine more sophisticated Ninfas than Cettine Cadelo but her performance is vivid and richly textured.

The bulk of the work in Il Combatimento di Tancredi et Clorinda is done by the narrator. Here the tenor (either Carlo Gaifa or Vincenzo Manno) sings in an expressive but very full voiced manner. The result is rather more deliberate than we are used to, but there is no doubting the dramatic force together with his strong projection of the words. Cettina Cadelo makes an appealing Clorinda and the tenor singing Tancredi is personable without being as vivid as the narrator.

In Il Ballo delle Ingrate Alessandra Ruffini and Claudia Nicole Bandera make an appealing Amore and Venere without being quite as vivid as some of the singers on these discs. Unfortunately Giovanni Faverio has a characterful gravelly voice which is not quite up to the demands of the extended tessitura of Plutone and his passagework leaves something to be desired. I found this performance a little disappointing, lacking the textual projection of some of the other performances and there are moments where the tuning of the Otto Anime Ingrate is a little questionable.

Those looking for ideal performances of Monteverdi’s madrigals would be well advised to consider the complete sets performed by the Consort of Musicke or Concerto Italiano. But whilst the performances in this set are not always ideal, they are never less than interesting. Brilliant have provided a varied mix of Monteverdi’s madrigal works in a microcosm of recent performance styles. The result makes both a fascinating introduction to Monteverdi’s madrigals and an interesting addition to the library shelves for those who already have these works. As usual with Brilliant the discs come with the Italian texts of the madrigals but no translations.

Robert Hugill

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