Monteverdi’s Madrigals Vol. 3 – Les Arts Florissants

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Madrigals, Vol. 3
PERFORMER: Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew


Monteverdi very tidily split his musical career into three style periods, each one related to a change of place – Cremona, Mantua and Venice. In this final volume of their series Les Arts Florissants cover his years in Venice (1613-43) with extracts from his late madrigal books.

There is fine singing here, particularly from the bass Lisandro Abadie in Altri canti d’Amor (great richness and clarity) and the contralto Lucile Richardot in Lettera Amorosa (with some stylish decoration and meaningful projection of the words). Elsewhere the standard is also high, though the slightly hard-edged singing in Chiome d’oro does not quite match the transporting sweetness of the Emma Kirkby/Evelyn Tubb version (most recently reissued on Regis Records), and the Combattimento performance here, though spirited and technically good, is several degrees cooler than the passionate rendering by Villazón/Haïm on Erato.

The accomplished instrumentalists give us stylish dance music in Tirsi e Clori, and a carefully graded balance between the nine instruments and single voice in Con che soavità. There are some adjustments to the original instrumentation – for example, recorders pop up in Chiome d’oro as well as strings, and in this case regretfully, in the Combattimento the halo of string sound that is supposed to surround the dying words of Clorinda – just as Bach later ordained for the words of Christ in the St Matthew Passion – has simply been deleted. That said, taking the three volumes of this series together, Les Arts Florissants have produced a judicious and musically compelling introduction to Monteverdi’s secular works.


Anthony Pryer