Monteverdi: First Book of Madrigals, 1587

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: First Book of Madrigals, 1587; Ninth Book of Madrigals, 1651
PERFORMER: La Venexiana


This disc of Monteverdi’s first (1587) and last (1651) books completes Venexiana’s cycle of his madrigals. Recordings of Book 1 are not rare – there’s Anthony Rooley on Virgin Veritas, Marco Longhini on Naxos and Raffaello Monterosso on Capriole – but those of the posthumous Book 9 are (there’s only Raymond Leppard’s now dated recording on Philips). Perhaps due to cramming two books on one disc, these performances are taken at a very fast pace. In Book 1 this approach suits those works in light canzonet style (such as ‘Se per avervi ohimè’), less so those employing dense polyphonic textures (such as ‘Usciam, ninfe, omai’). On some tracks (‘La vaga pastorella’) Venexiana are slower and produce a strong sense of narrative, but they cannot match the dynamic shading and exquisite tuning of the Rooley recordings. Also, their sound is somewhat harsh edged. But their all-vocal performances outstrip the Longhini/Naxos effort which muddies the waters with instrumental janglings and a low performance pitch. Venexiana perform Book 9 better than they do Book 1. There is some terrific bass solo singing by Matteo Bellotto in ‘Alcun non mi consigli’, a nice theatrical delivery in ‘Bel pastor’, and some engaging bravura in ‘Zefiro torna’. Some individual pieces are better performed on other recordings, but to have the collection together (albeit minus the items the original publisher duplicated from Book 8) fills a real gap in the market. Anthony Pryer