Monteverdi – Teatro d’Amore

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Teatro d’Amore
PERFORMER: Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor); L’Arpeggiata/Christine Pluhar (harp)
CATALOGUE NO: 236 1402

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I began listening to early music when multi-instrumentalist David Munrow’s allegedly inauthentic, populist (indeed, rabble-rousing) approach was causing frowns amongst purists. I would have none of this. For me, Munrow was possessed by the spirit of the music he was popularising. The liberties that he was supposedly taking brought centuries-old music to vigorous life.

Now I fear I am drifting into the dusty old fogies camp: there are several groups (no names, no pack-drill for now) who tend to ride rough-shod over the music, caring more about showcasing their astounding technical proficiency than the intrinsic character of the music.

L’Arpeggiata avoids this trap. The gorgeous singing of the soloists and stylish instrumental performances, though dazzling and gimlet-eyed, are also elegant and respectful without being obsequiously slavish to convention.

I’m not convinced the pseudo-jazz arrangement of ‘Ohime ch’io cado’ adds anything to our appreciation of Monteverdi’s innovative approach to ostinato bass-lines, but that, I should add, is nothing more than a minor twitch.

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This collection succeeds in its aim of demonstrating the variety of Monteverdi’s secular compositions. To reinforce the point, Pluhar has taken from their original contexts some instrumental sinfonias and balli together with the famous Toccata which opens both the Vespers and the opera L’Orfeo. Barry Witherden