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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Madrigals of Love and Loss
Ballo: Volgendo il ciel - Movete al mio bel suon, SV154 (Madrigals Book 8) [9:47]
Interspersed with
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/5-1665)
Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, SV153 (Madrigals Book 8) [20:03]
Or che ’l ciel e la terra e ’l vento tace, SV147 (Madrigals Book 8) [8:13]
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core? SV140 (Madrigals Book 7) [5:14]
Zefiro torna e ’l bel tempo rimena, SV108 (Madrigals Book 6) [3:46]
Ohimè il bel viso, ohimè il soave sguardo, SV112 (Madrigals Book 6) [4:22]
Sestina ‘Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata’, SV111 (Madrigals Book 6) [15:32]
James Gilchrist (tenor), Thomas Walker (tenor), Katherine Watson (soprano), Anna Dennis (soprano)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
rec. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 11, 13, 15 March 2013. DDD.
Booklet with texts and translations included
CD, mp3, 16- and 24-bit download from
HYPERION CDA68019 [70:01]

In recent years my principal benchmark for the latter books of Monteverdi’s madrigals has been a series of recordings by Il Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini:
• Book 6 (1614): Naïve/Opus111 OP30423; recently reissued even less expensively than the download as part of a super-budget 2-CD set, NC40042 - review; see also Download News 2013/4
• Book 8 (1638): Naïve/Opus111 OP30435 (Recording of the Month - review)
For Book 7 (1619) my benchmark is:
• Glossa GCD920927 (2 CDs - La Venexiana)
• the Romanesca Ohimè il mio ben from Book 7 on a selection of madrigals from Books 7-9, including Il Lamento d’Arianna, on Harmonia Mundi d’Abord HMA1951129 (Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs)
Additionally for Book 8:
• Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley on super-budget 2-CD Virgin (now Warner/Erato) 5615702
• Hyperion themselves offer a selection from Book 8, including the two longer works on the new CD, on budget price CDH55165 (Red Byrd; The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman)

The two Hyperion recordings offer the only downloads to come with texts.
Volgendo il ciel, which opens the new Hyperion programme, involves some political toadying to the Emperor Ferdinand III, with Sol, the God of the Sun, ushering in a new age of peace under his rule, so it seems a little out of place in a recording entitled Madrigals of Love and Loss. No matter; it’s a fine work. It receives a fine performance here with the Merula ciaccona inserted at an appropriate point where a wordless dance is called for but not specified. Alessandrini inserts another Merula dance at this point and Holman a brief canario by Prætorius. 

Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, based on a dramatic encounter in Tasso’s epic La Gerusalemme Liberata, is the major work in this collection. Here Love and Loss is an entirely appropriate theme, with the crusader’s opponent whom he kills turning out to be none other than his beloved. The nodi di fier nemico e non d’amante, embraces of enmity, not of love, give way to a far different mood at the end:
La vide, e la conobbe; e restò senza
e voce e moto. Ahi vista! ahi conoscenza!

[He saw her, he recognised her; and he was bereft of both voice and movement. Alas the sight! Alas the recognition!]
There are too many fine recordings of Combattimento to list, either as part of a complete recording of Book 8 or on a single CD. The Holman recording on Hyperion’s bargain label is something of a favourite of mine - if you just want Combattimento, Altri canti d’amor, Volgendo il ciel and Il ballo delle ingrate, it’s a snip on CDH55165 for £5.50 or less on disc, or £4.99, with texts, as an mp3 or lossless download and it comes as an added inducement with Bronzino’s erotic painting An Allegory with Venus and Cupid on the cover.
Both these opening works were originally performed with a scenario, as outlined in both Hyperion booklets. It’s worth knowing the plot, so it’s a shame that the only way to obtain the complete Alessandrini set is as a download without texts or notes - the scenario of Tancredi e Clorinda is outlined in the booklet which came with the CDs - but Hyperion and Chandos generously offer pdf downloads of all their booklets to all comers. In any event, the new Hyperion recording joins Alessandrini and the earlier Hyperion recording in capturing the drama of the action.
There’s a recording from the 1970s of several Monteverdi madrigals from the Heinrich Schütz Choir under Roger Norrington. It used to be well regarded - as recently, indeed, as 1992 when it was reissued on CD - and it’s still available as part of a Decca Collectors Edition (4709062). I played my copy of that 1992 reissue (Decca Serenata 4331742; no longer available separately), where Or che’l ciel e la terra is coupled with Lagrime d’amante and other works; it undoubtedly receives a powerful performance but it’s a measure of the change in the approach to baroque music now that, at just over 11 minutes, as against 8:13 on the new Arcangelo album, it sounds drawn out in a manner alien to Monteverdi’s madrigals.
Arcangelo take Or che’l ciel e la terra faster than most but they never sound rushed, capturing the tranquil mood of the opening superbly despite the tempo. Only René Jacobs on HMC901736/37 (download only) is faster; La Venexiana and Alessandrini are closer to the 10-minute mark By comparison - but only by comparison - Alessandrini seems to over-emphasise the tranquillity of that opening.
That René Jacobs’ selection on Harmonia Mundi now sounds dated in style, though it’s still worth considering if you want a recording of the Lamento d’Arianna, the only remaining excerpt from Monteverdi’s lost opera Arianna, and there’s a better recording of that at the beginning of the Alessandrini recording of Book 6 listed above.
The real competition for Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben on the new recording comes from La Venexiana on Glossa. Where Jacobs and his team canter through in 4:16 yet make the music sound tedious, Arcangelo (5:14) and La Venexiana (5:33) give the music more time to breathe. La Venexiana give an ethereally beautiful account of this madrigal, with individual voices clearly placed by the recording yet perfectly integrated within the whole. If you want the whole of Book 7 - and why not? - the Glossa 2-CD set must receive a strong recommendation. Arcangelo also give a very fine account of this madrigal, but their tone, though soaringly beautiful, sounds just a little forthright by comparison with La Venexiana and the words are a shade less clear.
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben also features on a selection of Monteverdi madrigals from I Fagiolini (Chandos CHAN0760) which I liked when I reviewed it in July 2009 - here. A 24/96 version has been added to the mp3 and 16-bit lossless since I first reviewed the Chandos recording. They, too, take the piece a little on the fast side but sound much more involved with the music than Jacobs and his team, though they don’t quite match Arcangelo or La Venexiana. See below for the account of this piece on the Naxos recording of Book 7.
That Chandos recording also contains Zefiro torna e ’l bel tempo rimena. Once again, their tempo is a shade faster than that of Arcangelo, perhaps appropriately since the theme is the return of Spring but, of course, there’s a sting in the tail of the Petrarch text: the lover cannot share in the general delight and I Fagiolini are also adept at expressing the darker mood of the second half. Here again, however, I thought Arcangelo just a little more persuasive and their transition from the universal joy at the return of Zephyrus to the lover’s inability to share it is managed just a little more naturally. La Venexiana, whose complete recording of Book 6 is also well worth considering (Glossa GCD920926), narrowly miss the full measure of delight at the opening of the madrigal.
Alessandrini’s team are even lighter in the opening yet a trifle slower overall than Arcangelo and seconds faster than La Venexiana. They capture the exuberant opening better and of the four versions of this madrigal which I compared, I award them the top prize in a very close competition - any one of these recordings heard alone is very satisfying.
A recent series of recordings of Monteverdi Madrigals by Delitiæ Musici on the Naxos label has found supporters in some quarters, but their slow, dragged tempos don’t sit at all well with me. On paper their account of Zefiro torna is only a few seconds slower than the other versions that I’ve considered, but I don’t hear much attempt to convey the joy of the opening. (Book 6, with some miscellaneous madrigals on a 2-CD set, 8.555312/13 - review).
The languid melancholy of Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben on their recording of Book 7 suits their style a little better but I wouldn’t recommend their performances as a whole (8.555314/16 - this time their slow tempi mean that they take three CDs for Book 7, thereby negating the advantage of the budget price).
It’s swings and roundabouts, then. The new Hyperion album stands up very well even against the strongest competition; it would make a good introduction to Monteverdi’s madrigals. It contains some of the best works from the three mature books and it’s available in 24-bit sound, in which form it sounds excellent. The booklet is, as always with Hyperion, first class. The older Hyperion selection from Book 8 is an excellent bargain and, though available only in 16-bit, still sounds well, as does the Anthony Rooley set, an even less expensive way to obtain the complete Book 8. 
Serious Monteverdi collectors will want the complete Books 6-8 and La Venexiana are currently the only show in town on CD. Their recording of Book 7 is particularly recommendable, especially as Rinaldo Alessandrini appears not to have recorded that, but his complete Books 6 and 8 remain my overall top recommendation. For a selection of the best madrigals from Books 6-8 the new Hyperion recording will do very nicely indeed, but Monteverdi is a more-ish sort of composer, so be prepared for it to lead you to explore his music further.
Brian Wilson