Monteverdi: Madrigali concertati

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: Madrigali concertati
PERFORMER: Viveca Axell (soprano), John Potter (tenor), Douglas Nasrawi (tenor), Harry van der Kamp (bass)Tragicomedia/Stephen Stubbs
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-91971-2 DDD
Too many ensembles seem in awe of Monteverdi, and treat his madrigals with an almost liturgical reverence inappropriate to their often frivolous nature. It is refreshing therefore to hear these canti amorosi and guerrieri performed with the spirit and passion their texts imply. Songs like ‘Tornate, o cari baci’ (its chorus repeats baci [kisses] 10 times consecutively), or the exquisitely lilting ‘Zefiro torna’, sound absurd if taken too seriously, but the tenors John Potter and Douglas Nasrawi – both sweet-voiced – inject a perfect lightness of tone, rendering them impassioned, foolish even, but never earnest.

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The mood changes radically with the three-part ‘Lamento della ninfa’ – altogether more sorrowful, as Viveca Axell’s plangent soprano soars above the voices of the two tenors and a bass (Harry van der Kamp) expressing their pity for her plight. And by the darker, warlike ‘Ogni amante è guerrier’, with its fanfares, and the bellicose ‘Gira il nemico insidioso’, it is powerfully dramatic.

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But it is not only the singers who deserve credit. The ensemble Tragicomedia (Stephen Stubbs, Andrew Lawrence-King and Erin Headley) give a performance, on a range of instruments, that is subtle, incisive, engaging and in all ways exemplary. Claire Wrathall