Monteverdi: Sweet Torment

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Chaconne
WORKS: Sweet Torment: Ballo delle Ingrate; Or che ‘l ciel e la terra; Questi vaghi concenti; Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti; Gira il nemico insidioso etc
PERFORMER: I Fagiolini; Barokksolistene/ Robert Hollingwort
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0760

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This is the third in a series of Monteverdi madrigal anthologies issued by I Fagiolini on the Chandos label. The other two – Flaming Heart (2006) and Fire and Ashes (2008) – were somewhat amorphous collections of ‘passionate’ music, but this shows terrific musical discernment.

We have, among other things, the brilliant Petrarch madrigals of Book 6, two wonderful examples of Monteverdi’s ingenuity with repeated bass patterns, a song in the ‘popular’ style (‘Sì dolce è il tormenti’ – hence the title of the album), and the theatre piece
Ballo della Ingrate.

The experience and flair of I Fagiolini is clearly demonstrated across these styles and textures. There is beautiful solo soprano singing in ‘Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben?’, and real musical panache in the metaphorical attack by Love on the castle of the heart in ‘Gira il nemico’. Additionally, the Baroque instrumentalists under violinist Bjarte Eike add much to the Ballo della Ingrate – the high plucked strings accompanying Amore are magical, and Plutone’s magnificent bass singing is neatly supported.

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As always with I Fagiolini, there are issues of tuning (or perhaps vocal production): the timbres and pitches are often slightly unfocused, and in a work such as ‘Questi vaghi’ this effect is magnified, especially with the tenors and basses subtly fluctuating between flatness and sharpness. A few of these items are better performed elsewhere (‘Sì dolce’ is transfigured in the Rolando Villazón/Emmanuelle Haïm version on Virgin, for example), but as a conspectus of Monteverdi’s genius this CD takes us on a very special journey. Anthony Pryer