Monteverdi: Madrigals, Book 8: Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Madrigals, Book 8: Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi
PERFORMER: Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs
Monteverdi’s collection of madrigals ‘of war and love’ was published in 1638 and in many ways represents a summation of his creative output. The set includes madrigals in every conceivable style and form: simple, three-voice canzonettas; music for court ballets; ‘madrigals of love’, like the limpidly sensuous Lamento della Ninfa; and ‘madrigals of war’, in which Monteverdi uses his newly created stile agitato to express violent emotions – most notably in his celebrated Petrarch setting Hor che’l ciel e la terra and the quasi-operatic Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.


For this recording, René Jacobs has procured an impressive international line-up, featuring Salomé Haller, Maria Cristina Kiehr, Bernarda Fink, Kobie van Rensburg, Victor Torres and Antonio Abete, among others. Through singing and playing of the highest order, Jacobs draws out all the expressive contrasts of the ‘agitated’, ‘languid’ and ‘temperate’ styles that Monteverdi so uniquely exploited here. Few could criticise these performances for being lacklustre – indeed, there are times when one might wish to dilute their intensity and cool their ardour, not least because such an overtly dramatic approach can adversely affect vocal production. Several of the voices can sound forced, even over-strained, and some listeners may find the use of vibrato and expressive portamenti too intrusive.


Many of today’s leading ensembles have recorded extracts from this collection, but the only other complete version currently available is by the Consort of Musicke – a set which remains an outstanding achievement. But for flamboyant panache and unbridled exhilaration, Concerto Vocale is unbeatable. Kate Bolton