Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: L’Orfeo
PERFORMER: Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli, Sara Mingardo, Furio Zanasi, Luca Dordolo, Sergio Foresti, Antonio Abete, Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli; Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
CATALOGUE NO: OP 30439
Recordings of Monteverdi’s Orfeo tend to come with chunky, indulgent essays these days about what somebody or other has imagined while confronting the work. A chunky essay is included with this recording too, all about different ways of singing the text, but it actually seems to have meant something to the performers – this is unquestionably the most subtle rendering of the Orfeo text that’s available on compact disc.

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Furio Zanasi (Orfeo) is exceptionally good. Not only can he manage the daunting acrobatics of the central aria, ‘Possente spirto’

but in the great lament for Eurdice,

‘Tu se morte’, he draws on everything – carefully judged rests, harmonic tensions, the flowing stresses and rhythms of the text – to create skein of vocal grief. Simboli (Euridice) is pure-voiced and clear, and Mingardo uses the natural vulnerability in her sound movingly to project the distraught feelings of the Messenger.

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The instrumentalists are also good, though they whizz through the ritornellos of the choruses and so rather lose the character of what are in effect dance-songs. The recording is nicely in focus, and different instrumental colours distinguish clearly between the underworld and the realm of the living. The care over the text means this is slightly slower than Emmanuelle Haïm’s sometimes pointlessly hectic version (Virgin 2004), and the quality of the cast outstrips that of La Venexiana on Glossa (reviewed October 2007). The consistency and clarity of John Eliot Gardiner’s version (Archiv) remains a benchmark, but now it is joined by this remarkable display of the union of music and poetry. Anthony Prior