Marenzio: Madrigali a quatro voci (Book 1)

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WORKS: Madrigali a quatro voci (Book 1)
PERFORMER: Rossana Bertini (soprano), Claudio Cavina (alto) Giuseppe Maletto (tenor), Sergio Foresti (basso), Mara Galassi (harp), Andrea Damiani (lute); Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
‘Of stature and complexion, hee was a little and blacke man,’ wrote Henry Peacham of Marenzio in 1622, by which time in England his madrigals were much appreciated. The 21 presented here are sung with great purity of tone and good intonation. But a CD ‘intégral’ can become its own death-wish, for the set was never meant to be sung in sequence. After four slows there is a sudden need for a quick one, but if this fifth item happens to be a quiet pastoral the speed is illogically increased just to provide contrast. Rushed, Petrarch’s exquisite ‘Non al suo amante’ loses much of its potential appeal, and the following ‘Hor vedi, Amor’ (also Petrarch) nearly turns into a patter song. Sannazaro’s Arcadian eclogue (‘Chi vol udire’) is beautifully declaimed, however, as is Tasso’s ‘Vezzosi augelli’, depicting Armida’s enchanted garden. Of course, one can re-programme the entire sequence on CD, but few listeners will possess the specialised knowledge required. Rinaldo Alessandrini’s notes, moderately helpful, could have told us whose edition is being used: Meier, Ledbetter, or Steele? Denis Stevens