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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Les Arts Florissants Editions
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Madrigals: Primo Libro; Secondo Libro; Terzo Libro
PERFORMER: Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew


It is usual to split Monteverdi’s career into three style periods, each related to a particular city – Cremona, Mantua and Venice. Les Arts Florissants are covering his madrigal output at these places in three recordings. The first (Volume 2, Mantua) was issued in 2014, and Volume 3 (Venice) will appear in 2016. This volume covers Monteverdi’s youthful attempts to establish expressive text setting and employ responsive approaches to musical performance.

There are some delightfully sparkling and engaging displays here, relating to the hot fury of the lover in ‘Vattene pur’, or the tender waking from sleep of Armida in ‘Poi ch’ella’, or the (almost) French ‘patter’ style at the end of ‘Arsi e alsi’. Elsewhere crucial details can be lost – for example, the shattering sigh (‘lasso’) composed into ‘Poi che’, or the mock savagery of the many repetitions of the word ‘vendetta’ in ‘Questa ordì di laccio’ – and the changes from duple to triple time (in ‘Fumia la pastorella’ and ‘Non si levava’) can be clunky.


These acoustically alert recordings are mostly live (with some tidying up) and are derived from a series of concerts in Paris. The singers are agile but some have a tendency to ‘squeeze’ their notes out, producing a forced vibrato (the repeated word ‘Deh’ in ‘La vaga’), and there are a few issues with tuning. Even so, recordings of Monteverdi’s very early madrigals are rare and this surpasses some (Marco Longhini on Naxos) if not all (La Venexiana on Glossa). Anthony Pryer