Monteverdi: Madrigals, Books 3, 4, 7, 8, 9

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Madrigals, Books 3, 4, 7, 8, 9
PERFORMER: Sheila Armstrong, Norma Burrowes, Heather Harper, Anne Howells, Lillian Watson, Alfreda Hodgson, Patricia Kern, Anne Collins, Helen Watts, Luigi Alva, Ryland Davies, Alexander Oliver, Robert Tear, John Wakefield, Ian Partridge, Benjamin Luxon, Stafford De
CATALOGUE NO: 462 243-2 ADD Reissue (1969-75)
In a newly assembled boxed set of eight CDs, Philips has brought together the madrigals of Monteverdi’s Third, Fourth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Books. The range of emotions, the apparent effortlessness of Monteverdi’s technique and the exquisite sensibility of his responses to the poetry seem almost limitless when the listener is confronted by as many pieces as there are here. The contrasting elements of counterpoint and melody enjoy an amiable intercourse that belies the heated debate that was being conducted at the time between adherents of old and new schools of thought. What emerges are musically sensuous responses to some of the great passionate Italian love poetry of the 16th century, and thrillingly dramatic ones to the somewhat earlier Italian epics.

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Raymond Leppard recorded these madrigals during the Seventies when his Glyndebourne performances of Monteverdi and Cavalli operas were enjoying popular acclaim. Leppard’s lavishly realised approach to the music, together with the full voiced singing of many of the soloists, just predates the fundamental reappraisal of performing styles which marked the early music revival in Britain in the mid to late Seventies.

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What a world of difference lies between his concept of Tasso’s combat between Tancredi and Clorinda and that of Rinaldo Alessandrini’s recording of the piece, in a new issue with his Concerto Italiano. With its leaner textures, crisper, idiomatic declamation and more supple continuo, Alessandrini’s version makes much the greater appeal. And the same goes for his performance of Rinuccini’s ‘Ballo delle Ingrate’, also from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book. But readers may well be attracted by the wonderful line-up of soloists mustered by Leppard, as indeed by the musicianly, if dated, interpretations. Nicholas Anderson