Marenzio: Madrigals: Il più dolce cigno d’Italia

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COMPOSERS: Marenzio
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Madrigals: Il più dolce cigno d’Italia
PERFORMER: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-245
At a time when Palestrina led the field in sacred music, Luca Marenzio was the foremost composer of profane polyphony. Rinaldo Alessandrini and the Concerto Italiano give a brilliantly colourful portrayal of Marenzio’s extensive emotional range in a selection from all nine books of madrigals. La Venexiana, by contrast, concentrates on a highly polished and scholarly survey of the pieces for five voices in the sixth book.

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From the audible collective intake of breath at the beginning of the first item (‘Basciami mille volte’), Alessandrini and his singers pursue a seductive and deliciously inspiring journey through this repertoire. They reach expressive heights in the irresistibly sensuous ‘Satiati Amor’ and the urgent erotic frisson of ‘Donne il celeste lume’. Two instrumental interludes provide the necessary emotional relief.

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The musicians of La Venexiana sing with comparable precision and sensitive tuning. Their astonishing technical finesse and exemplary judgement of dynamics and pace are flawless throughout. But, for all the generous opulence characteristic of this ensemble, their performances, by comparison, lack that vital spontaneity. Listening to both groups in ‘Udite, lagrimosi’ (illustrating the lover’s physical exhaustion), for instance, the more complete aesthetic experience offered by Alessandrini’s singers with instrumental accompaniment is to be preferred. Nicholas Rast