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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
from Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (publ. 1638)
1. Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624) [21:14]
2. Ogni amante è guerrier [16:31]
3. Mentre vaga Angioletta [10:18]
4. Lamento della ninfa [5:26]
Ann Murray (soprano) (3, 4), Felicity Palmer (soprano) (3), Anne-Marie Mühle (soprano) (3), Janet Perry (soprano) (3); Trudeliese Schmidt (mezzo) (1); Kurt Equiluz (tenor) (1, 4), Werner Hollweg (tenor) (1, 2), Philip Langridge (tenor) (2, 4); Hans Franzen (bass) (2), Rudolf Hartmann (bass) (4); Concentus musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. Casino Zögernitz, Vienna, May 1980, February 1984
WARNER DAS ALTE WERK 2564690525 [53:56]
Experience Classicsonline

In some respects Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is Monteverdi at his most visionary. The composer is here more overtly dramatic than in his other operas and pointing forward to Handel, Gluck … maybe even to the 19th century and beyond. Technically speaking this is not an opera at all; it is a dramatic scene. Much of the score is so dramatic that it invites stage treatment and I have seen it performed that way, more than thirty years ago at the Dubrovnik Festival.

Originally commissioned by a Venetian patrician to be performed during Shrovetide 1624 it was later published as part of Monteverdi’s eighth book of madrigals, Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi (Madrigals of love and war). It may have been intended for narrator and small instrumental ensemble but since there are literal lines for Tancredi and Clorinda it makes for more variation and dramatic truth to have individual singers for each of the two roles. At staged performances there may be mimes or dancers acting the characters. The vocal lines are extremely varied and ‘modern’, following the text – from Torquato Tasso’s La Gerusalemme liberata – almost graphically and calling for good voice actors. There are no real arias – most of the narration is recitative-like declamation. Clorinda’s final words are in the lamento manner – and very effective it is too. The whole is as far from the traditional ‘fa-la-la’ madrigal as can be imagined. Even more remarkable than the singing style is the instrumental backing. Well, ‘backing’ is not really an adequate word since the players are such an integrated part of the entity. They illustrate the dramatic proceedings, comment and link episodes with ritornellos. It is mostly very dramatic and powerful music and Monteverdi introduces techniques that were unheard of before including pizzicato and string tremolo – to express excitement. The scoring is for two violins, viola, violoncello, violone, harpsichord and theorbo, alternating guitar.

The playing of the members of Concentus musicus on period instruments is as vital and dramatic as one could wish. There is at times an almost ferocious thrust to the music-making. This is to my ears baroque-verismo – a hitherto unheard of crossover genre. Compared with my only other recording, with Musica Antiqua, Cologne under Reinhard Goebel on Archiv Produktion 2533 460 (LP) from 1980, I found playing of comparable intensity, possibly a little less verismo, but the difference is negligible. Tempos are practically identical too so a choice of version has to be guided by the soloists.

Testo, the narrator, has the main burden of the singing and Goebel has the experienced baroque specialist Nigel Rogers in the role. His enunciation of the text is exemplary and his power of insight illuminating. A stylist no doubt he still goes beyond what can be seen as common baroque practice for the sake of dramatic truth. His tone is not exactly beautiful, rather dry too, but his technique is fabulous with incredibly fluent coloratura. Harnoncourt has, somewhat surprisingly, Werner Hollweg, who in his heyday was one of the best Mozart tenors around and an excellent Lieder singer. His voice is more beautiful and also more voluminous, which doesn’t exclude great sensitivity to the words and at some climaxes his heroic tone heightens the drama even more than Rogers’ more limited vocal resources. Both are worthy readings.

Harnoncourt’s Tancredi is the tenor Kurt Equiluz whereas Goebel has the bass David Thomas. Both singers must be counted among the most important baroque experts of their time: Equiluz a legendary Bach singer with numerous performances as the various evangelists and Thomas best known perhaps for even earlier music than that but also a formidable Handel singer. My admiration for Equiluz has always been great ever since I bought a recording of St. Matthew Passion back in the 1960s. He doesn’t let this recording down either but by the side of David Thomas’s formidable and spine-chilling outbursts he pales.

Trudeliese Schmidt is a more powerful Clorinda for Harnoncourt than Goebel’s more slender-limbed Patrizia Kwella, whose final lament is truly moving.

I am hard put to make a final choice of preference and if I in the final resort put my money on Goebel the reason may well be that I have known it for so much longer.

Il combattimento is the longest work on this disc and also the best known but the other three works are no less remarkable. Ogni amante è guerrier is virtuoso and dramatic with powerful contributions from the wind instruments, full-throated, rather extrovert ensemble singing from the three male voices and a magnificent long bass solo from the black-voiced Hans Franzen. No ancient cobwebs cover the pages here; this is music-making that is refreshing, inventive and illustrative.

Four sopranos intertwine their voices in a network of elegant cantilenas or sing in heavenly harmony in Mentre vaga Angioletta while Lamento della ninfa has its roots in the famous Lamento d’Arianna, the only surviving number from the opera Arianna, written the year after L’Orfeo.

The recorded sound is immediate and does full justice to the inspired singing and playing. The notes by Markus Engelhardt give ample information on the music but the sung texts and translations must be downloaded from internet.

Yes, Monteverdi was a remarkable composer and those who still think that the history of music began with Bach should lend an ear to this disc, with music composed half a century before Bach was even born. It may be a revelation! Those already converted will need no further persuasion. And the readings are worthy of the music.

Göran Forsling



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