Monteverdi,Marini, Antegnati & Merulo

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COMPOSERS: Antegnati & Merulo,Marini,Monteverdi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Pianto Della Madonna
WORKS: Solo motets by Monteverdi, works by Marini, Antegnati & Merulo
PERFORMER: Maria Cristina Kiehr (soprano); Concerto Soave/Jean-Marc Aymes
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901680
But for their sacred texts, there is little to distinguish Monteverdi’s motets from his madrigals, their better-known secular equivalent. Musically, they inhabit the same sound world, with their ritornelli and dance-like rhythms. But perhaps the most striking similarities are to be found in the title pieces of these two discs: the ‘Lamento d’Arianna’, written in 1608 and the only remaining aria from the lost opera L’Arianna, which Monteverdi considered his finest work, was reworked in 1640 into the sacred piece ‘Pianto della Madonna’ (The Madonna’s Complaint).

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On the first of these discs, the Monteverdi motets (which are coupled with instrumental works by Marini, Antegnati and Merulo) are sung by the Argentinian soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr. She has an arrestingly lovely voice, with shining purity of tone, exemplary steadiness (her ability to sustain a note is literally breathtaking) and a manner that is sincere and infectiously joyful.

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The madrigals disc (which also includes pieces by Ferrari), a reissue from 1984, is remarkable for featuring two of the most revered early-music conductors, René Jacobs (counter-tenor) and William Christie (harpsichord) among its performers. Unsurprisingly, it too is excellent, but perhaps its real star is the mezzo Helga Müller-Molinari, whose unwavering yet pellucid tone contrasts to sublime effect with Jacobs’s more robust voice on the six duets. Claire Wrathall