LABELS: Les Arts Florissants Editions
WORKS: Madrigals, Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew
CATALOGUE NO: AF 003
Monteverdi very tidily split his musical career into three style periods, each one related to a change of place – Cremona, Mantua and Venice. Les Arts Florissants are offering a fascinating survey of his madrigal output in three volumes to mirror those changes, and (eccentrically) have started with volume 2 and Mantua (1590-1612). Those years saw Monteverdi’s attempts to free music from the old rules of counterpoint and turn it into a strongly expressive vehicle.
This group of performers is commendably aware of that move towards expressive freedom: we get from them searing moments of deep anguish (‘Piagn’e sospira’); reflective sadness (Arianna’s Lament); quicksilver ‘speaking-in-song’ (in the Sestina); and mesmerising calm stillness (‘Sfogava con le stelle’). In the more nimble works (for example, ‘E cosí’) they are less assured, and the awkward time changes in the light-footed ‘Zefiro torna’ are rather clunky. On the other hand we do get the finest performance on disc of the final bars of that last madrigal with its incredibly avant-garde dissonances. The singers are slightly uneven in quality, as in ‘Si ch’io vorrei’, where the top voice is often sharp. However, when the instruments turn up (in ‘Questi vaghi’, for example) they are tastefully played. The disc has a link to videos of the performers. The liner notes, rather oddly, contain many slips (Monteverdi was born in 1567 not 87, he left nine books of madrigals – one posthumous – not eight, and the portrait provided of ‘Monteverdi’ is probably an actor called Tristano Martinelli).