Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Messa a 4 voci da cappella (1650) [26:11]
Salve Regina II a 2 voci, due tenore [7:43]
Litany of the Blessed Virgin [12:05]
Il nono libro de madrigali (Ninth Book of Madrigals, 1651) [43:59]
Lamento d’Arianna ‘Lasciatemi morire’ [9:37]
Scherzi Musicali (1632) [19:04]
Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze (1624) [8:50]
Il nono libro de madrigali (Ninth Book of Madrigals, 1651): Bel pastor dal cui bel guardo [5:15]
Gastone Sarti (baritone); Rodolfo Farolfi, Giorgio Marelli (tenor); Rascida Agosti (contralto); Armando Burattin (viola da gamba); Vera Luccini, Mariella Sorelli (organ and harpsichord); Complesso Vocale Polifonia*
Karla Schlean (soprano); Rodolfo Farolfi (tenor); Genunzio Ghetti (viola da gamba); Mariella Soreklli (harpshcord); I Solisti di Milano**; Angelo Ephrikian*/**
rec. Villa Litta, Milan, 15-20 September 1966 (CD 3), 19-24 March 1967 (CD 2) and 8-14 February 1969 (CD 1). ADD
Texts not included
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802117 [3 CDs: 46:00 + 43:59 + 42:42]
Angelo Ephrikian directed what seems to have been the first LP of Monteverdi’s music ever to be released in the UK, on the Nixa label. Though generally welcomed at the time, and though I haven’t knowingly ever heard that recording, I very much doubt if it would pass muster now. The present 3-CD set derives from recordings made in the mid-to-late 1960s and released on the Ars Nova and Telefunken Das Alte Werk labels. They appeared at a time when period practice was beginning to gain acceptance, so I was hopeful that these recordings would at least be in a style half way towards modern ideas of period performance.
Listening to the 4-part mass first CD, however, immediately proved a disappointment. The Kyries are penitential in intention, a request for mercy, but Ephrikian’s interpretation of them is downright mournful, as if they were part of a Requiem. Surely things must perk up for the Gloria, that outburst of joy, praise and thanksgiving, but this, too, receives a very stately performance. At times the music is allowed to come to life, but it isn’t often enough. The Credo is better, taken at quite a good pace, though the energy soon begins to falter well before the words et homo factus est, where the congregation traditionally knelt and the music adopted a more solemn tone until et resurrexit. At that point here it slows to almost a dead halt and, though it comes to life again at et resurrexit, already by et iterum venturus est the pace has slowed to sluggish again.
Nor are the diction and intonation of the Complesso Vocale anything to write home about, but that may be at least partly the fault of the acoustic and recording - the latter sounding more like early 1950s vintage than late-1960s.
I had to shake the Ephrikian performance out of my head. As soon as I had listened to the whole of CD 1, I turned to the recording by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers on Hyperion Helios CDH55145 - see my review. A simple comparison of overall timings shows how slow the Newton Classics version is: overall 26:11 against 21:45 from The Sixteen, though that’s only half the story - on paper Ephrikian is actually faster than Christophers (3:51 for the Kyrie against Christophers’ 3:59). It’s more to do with keeping the music moving and the four parts weaving in and out of each other in a manner still reminiscent of the great renaissance polyphonists of the previous century than with simple timings.
The version by The Sixteen comes at budget price; I don’t think you need to pay more, but there’s another, full price, Hyperion recording on Volume 1 of their complete Monteverdi Sacred Music, performed by The King’s Consort (CDA67428). Robert King and his team are even more expeditious than The Sixteen, polishing off the Kyrie, for example, in 2:35. That’s perhaps a little too fast, but it doesn’t sound hurried and the rest of their performance is well up to the high standards of the series and, not least, their superb version of the 1610 Vespers (CDA67351/2 - see review: Recording of the Month and Hyperion Top 30 Download Roundup).
The Newton Classics performance and recording quality brighten considerably with the Salve Regina II for two tenors. Both Rodolfo Farolfi and Giorgio Marelli have pleasant, if rather heavy voices, and the tempo, though hardly breakneck, is somewhat less lugubrious here. Turn to the King’s Consort recording on Hyperion CDA67487 (Monteverdi Sacred Music 3), however, and you enter a wholly different world. Instead of 7:43, King and his team take just 5:01. As with the 4-part mass, however, it’s not just a matter of timing; everything about the Hyperion recording is infinitely more stylish. Considering that some of the wonderful Hyperion CDs of Monteverdi’s Sacred Music have been in peril and fallen into the ‘please buy me’ category, I really wonder what future there can be for these Ephrikian versions.
Though recorded two years earlier, the madrigals from the posthumous Book 9 on CD 2 fare a good deal better - the performances are livelier and the recording sounds less dated. Book 9 doesn’t often get a look in - Books 5-8 receive much more attention and there have been some excellent recordings of these books, most notably from Concerto Italiano and Rinaldo Alessandrini. If you have room for only one Monteverdi recording in your collection, it should be their 3-CD set of Book 8, Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (Naïve/Opus111 OP30435 - see review: Recording of the Month).
Several of the thirteen madrigals from Book 9 had been published before 1651 - Armato il cor (track 2) in 1632 and Se vittorie sì belle (tr.1), Ardo e scoprir (tr.3), O sia tranquillo il mare (tr.4), Alle danze, alle goie (tr.9) and Su, su, su, pastorelli vezzosi (tr.12) with Book 8 in 1638; they can be found in superior performances on that Naïve/Opus111 set and from La Venexiana directed by Claudio Cavina on Glossa GCD920928 (2 CDs). The remaining music may not be the equal of that marvellous Book 8, but it’s well worth having, especially as the only piece which gets much of a look in on anthology recordings, Si dolce è il tormento, is not included, so there’s no danger of overlap.
With singing a good deal livelier than on CD 1 - though it’s still no match for Concerto Italiano and La Venexiana, and the clangily insistent harpsichord is distracting - and decent recording I began to see a place for this set until I heard Rascida Agosti in non voglio amare (tr.8); neither she nor her supporting female voices from the Complesso Vocale are a patch on the male singers. Just compare La Venexiana in this work on a selection of music from Books 1 and 9 (Glossa GCD920921) and the difference is of the same order as between Ephrikian and the Hyperion recordings with which I compared CD 1, and not just because of the much faster tempo. That Glossa CD also contains versions of the final five madrigals on CD 2 of the Newton set and, though the contrast is less extreme than in non voglio amare - sometimes Cavina takes the music even more slowly than Ephrikian - there can be little doubt where my preferences lie; both singing and continuo are more varied. If you can, try the Glossa recordings from the Naxos Music Library.
Apart from the few madrigals not included on other recordings - though the performances are less dated than those on CD 1 - CD 2 is caught between the upper and nether millstones of superior performances on Naïve/Opus 111 and Glossa. Competition for the works on CD 3 is also very strong. The Lamento d’Arianna is the only surviving part of the lost opera Arianna. This lament sung by Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus, set a fashion which Monteverdi himself exploited by re-setting the music as a madrigal and as a lament by the Virgin Mary, Iam moriar, mi fili. You’ll find a splendid super-budget version of this as Pianto della Madonna, with Emily Kirkby on super-budget Alto ALC1190.
One of the best versions of the original secular setting, from La Venexiana and Claudio Cavina again, on Glossa GCD920915, couples the lament with the Scherzi musicali, thereby providing the kind of direct competition with which Ephrikian can no more compete than with the Hyperion recordings of the music on CD 1. Though the Glossa recording is rather short value at 54 minutes, that’s still 12 minutes longer than the Newton disc.
I see that Jeremy Noble, reviewing the contents of CD3 on a Telefunken Das Alte Werk release in 1973, thought that the performances took us back to the days when ‘early music’ was the preserve of gentlemanly enthusiasts, days which are even further removed from us now. Karla Schlean is certainly lamentosa in the Lamento but her blustery style is much heavier than is usual nowadays and the clangorously insistent and mechanical-sounding harpsichord too prominent. She takes a minute longer than Emanuela Galli on Glossa but that’s not the only reason why I couldn’t wait for her to finish - by being less overtly impassioned, Galli is ultimately more moving.
A new booklet note by Berta Joncus explores Monteverdi’s career and the compositions in this collection, but the texts are not included. Another small grumble; the programme could easily have been fitted on two CDs and enshrined in a slim-line case - that’s a major consideration for those of us with bulging collections.
The recording on CD 1 is very dated, that on the other discs less so to the extent that I wondered whether the dates in the booklet were not actually the wrong way around; CD 1 sounds much more like 1953 than 1963 or 1969.
Newton Classics have in a short time brought us some very worthwhile reissues, several of which are advertised in the booklet which accompanies this Monteverdi release; I wish that I could have reported that this was one of them, but it definitely isn’t. With more accomplished soloists, as with Aafje Heynis in a recording which he made of music by Vivaldi on a Telefunken LP, it may well be that Ephrikian could have made more of this Monteverdi music. I see that Past Classics have released his performances of parts of the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers collection; it looks like a tempting bargain at £1.26 from emusic.com, but sampling the tracks suggests otherwise - performance and recording sound of a piece with the 4-part mass on the Newton Classics recording. The Newton Classics set also sells for a reasonable price, but I really can’t recommend it. A 1998 single-CD release on the Rivolato label of the performances contained on CD 1 remains in the catalogue at full price, making it about as expensive as the three Newton Classics discs and, it would follow, even less recommendable. Spend a little more on The Sixteen or the King’s Consort, both on Hyperion, in the sacred music and on the Opus111 and Glossa recordings which I’ve mentioned in connection with CDs 2 and 3.
Too dated in style and recording quality to be of much value.
Some recommended Monteverdi recordings:
Mass a 4 da cappella; Mass In illo tempore: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers - Hyperion Helios CDH55145 (budget price) - review and review
Sacred Vocal Music: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Ian Partridge (tenor), David Thomas (bass); The Parley of Instruments - Hyperion Helios CDH55345 (budget price)
The Sacred Music: Volume 1: The King’s Consort/Robert King - Hyperion CDA67428 (small stocks on SACD left)
Volume 2: The King’s Consort/Robert King - Hyperion CDA67438 (small stocks on SACD left)
Volume 3: The King’s Consort/Robert King - Hyperion CDA67487 (small stocks on SACD left) - review
Volume 4: The King’s Consort/Robert King - Hyperion CDA67519 (small stocks on SACD now depleted) - review and review
Vespers (1610): The King’s Consort/Robert King - Hyperion CDS67531/2 (2 CDs) (small stocks on SACD now depleted) - review
Vespers (1610); Selva Morale (excerpts): Taverner Consort, Choir and Players/Andrew Parrott - Virgin Veritas 5616622 (2 CDs, budget price) - review
Selva morale e spirituale (complete): Cantus Cölln/Konrad Junghänel - Harmonia Mundi HMC901718/20 (3 CDs - currently unavailable except as download from hmvdigital.com for £7.99)
Selva morale e spirituale (excerpts, Vol.2): The Sixteen/Harry Christophers - Coro COR16101 - review
Scherzi; Lamento di Arianna: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920915
1st and 9th Books of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920921
2nd Book of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920922
2nd Book of Madrigals Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini - Naïve/Opus111 OP30487
3rd Book of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920923
4th Book of Madrigals: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini - Naïve/Opus111 OP30502
5th Book of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920925
5th Book of Madrigals: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini - Naïve/Opus111 OP30445
6th Book of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920926
6th Book of Madrigals: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini - Naïve/Opus111 OP30522
7th Book of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920927 (2 CDs)
8th Book of Madrigals: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920928 (3 CDs)
8th Book of Madrigals: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini - Naïve/Opus111 OP30435 (3 CDs for price of 2) - review
8th Book of Madrigals (selections): Consort of Musicke/Rooley - Virgin Veritas 5615702 (2 CDs, super-budget price; also contained in set below)
Books 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8: Consort of Musicke/Rooley - Virgin Veritas 0833972 or 5622682 (7 CDs, super-budget price)
Madrigali erotici e spirituale (selections): Emma Kirkby, etc. - Alto ALC1160 (super-budget price) - review of earlier CD release; review and review of DVD version
L’Orfeo: La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina - Glossa GCD920913 (2 CDs) - review
L’Orfeo: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini - Naïve/Opus 111 OP30439 (2 CDs) - review
L’Orfeo: Monteverdi Choir/John Eliot Gardiner - DG Archiv 419 2502 (2 CDs) - review
L’Orfeo: Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm - Virgin Veritas 5456422 or 9482532 (2 CDs) - review and review
L’Orfeo: London Baroque/Charles Medlam - Virgin Veritas 4820782 (2 CDs, super-budget price)
Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: Les Arts Florissants/William Christie - Dynamic 33641 (DVD) - review
Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: Les Arts Florissants/William Christie (different performance) - Virgin 4906129 (DVD)
Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: Sergio Vartolo - Brilliant Classics 93104 (3 CDs, super-budget price, but including libretto and detailed notes)
Lamento d’Arianna: Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm (with other Lamenti) - Virgin Classics 5190442 - review
and, for a superb and inexpensive introduction to Monteverdi’s sacred and secular music
Monteverdi Duets and Solos: Emma Kirkby, Evelyn Tubb (sopranos), Anthony Rooley (lute) - Alto ALC1060
NB: Some of the links will take you to one of my Download Roundups - you may have to scroll down the page to find what you want. As always, please check catalogue numbers before purchase.