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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
Fifth Book of Madrigals (1605) [78:34]
Delitiae Musicae (Alessandro Carmignani, Paolo Costa, Andrea Arrivabene – counter tenor); Fabio Furnari, Paolo Fanciullacci, Alberto Allegrezza (tenor), Walter Testolin , Davide Benetti (bass); Maurizio Piantelli (theorbo); Carmen Leoni (harpsichord); Marina Bonetti (harp); Cristiano Contadin, Rodney Prada, Marco Angilella, Caterina Dell’Agnello (viola da gamba), Sabina Colonna (soprano viola da gamba, lirone, violone))/Marco Longhini
rec. 5–10 April 2003, Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, Azzago, Verona. DDD
NAXOS 8.555311 [78:34]


Monteverdi published his fifth book of madrigals in 1605 and dedicated it to the Duke of Mantua in whose service he was. The publication’s preface is an interesting confirmation of Monteverdi’s working habits, because he refers to the Duke listening to - and approving of - the madrigals whilst they were still in manuscript, though in fact none of the manuscript copies have come down to us.

That the madrigals were written for the Duke’s private chambers meant that Monteverdi had considerable artistic freedom. His previous book of madrigals had delighted some but scandalized others as Monteverdi pushed the madrigal to its utmost.

The fifth book of madrigals was popular; by 1643 it has been re-printed nine times. The original publication included not only the preface but also an introductory essay. Monteverdi used this to respond to criticism of his advance compositional methods levelled against him by Giovanni Maria Artusi in his polemical publications. It is in this essay that Monteverdi refers to La seconda prattica (the second practice). This second practice ‘is the musical style which makes the "oration" (i.e. the word together with the meaning, communicative sense, spirit and concept that lie within it, as well as prosody, syntax and rhetoric) the mistress of harmony (i.e. of the music and its phonics, grammar and structure) and not its maid servant’.

These works abandon the traditional five-voiced madrigal and instead present music for a variety of groupings of voices in which instrumental writing could be rendered almost as important as the vocal lines. So, of course, the first question that listeners must ask themselves is, does the performance do justice to Monteverdi’s La seconda prattica.

This new disc is part of Delitiae Musicae’s on-going complete series of Monteverdi’s madrigals for Naxos. As such, many people who have bought previous volumes will want to buy this as well, having become familiar with Delitiae Musicae’s performing style.

The group is all-male with counter-tenors on the top line. The results are notably distinctive and will play a big part in affecting the listener’s attitude to this recording. The group functions as a vocal ensemble, each voice being distinct and distinctive. In that sense they are closer to Concerto Italiano than to the Consorte of Musicke. Their defining style is conditioned by the sound of Alessandro Carmignani and Paolo Costa on the top lines. Their sound has an unearthly quality which, though hauntingly beautiful at times seems a little at odds with the very human dramas being played out in the madrigals.

Also, Carmignani seems to be operating at the limits of his voice. The results are by no means unpleasant but there were times when I felt that he did not have the flexibility to give the vocal line the expressiveness it needed. This leads into another issued which applies to all of the singers: though an Italian group they do not give the words the intensity and concentration that they would seem to need. You almost feel that the group was a little too in love with its own sound-world.

The madrigals are dramatic and include a sequence of five that created an extended scene between the unhappy couple of Dorinda and Silvio. Delitiae Musicae’s performances simply lack the dramatic impetus that this scene calls for.

Simply put, I found this disc disappointing. At Naxos bargain prices the disc makes a perfectly acceptable offering but you could find performances elsewhere which did more justice to Monteverdi’s genius.

By all means buy this disc if you have been collecting previous volumes or as a supplement to other recordings. But if you are looking for a library recording, my advice is to look elsewhere.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Dominy Clements


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