WORKS: Madrigals, Bk 7
PERFORMER: La Venexiana
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 920904
These late madrigals by Monteverdi are astonishingly varied and imaginative. Indeed, the music from Book 7 is so varied – with old-style ensemble madrigals, duets, solo arias, light canzonets, dramatic monodies and even a ballet – that it has hardly ever been recorded complete. La Venexiana treats the 29 items as a concert, ignoring their order in the printed source. This works well, and produces moments of real panache. The lively singing, though, is sometimes neutralised by the ‘churchy’ acoustic and heavy bassline. ‘Eccomi pronta’, for example, needs utter crispness to display the kissing and biting effects of the music: what is missed here can be heard by listening to the wonderfully erotic version on Stephen Stubbs’s Madrigali Concerti (Teldec). Many of the duets, too, are better served by Alan Curtis’s Monteverdi: Complete Duets (Virgin Veritas). But the present recording easily surpasses the only other complete version – Raymond Leppard’s 1975 attempt, reissued by Philips last year.
We do not need to dwell long on the Book 8 madrigals performed by Il Ruggiero. These are spirited musicians, but the quality of the performances simply cannot compete with the major rivals. Compare, for example, the worthy attempts here with the magnificent version of ‘Io che nell’otio nacqui’ by Concert Italiano on Opus 111, or the sophisticated and flexible rendering of Combattimento produced by Philip Pickett on L’Oiseau-Lyre. Il Ruggiero can be enjoyed, but not savoured. Anthony Pryer