Monteverdi: Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, and other madrigals from Books VI-IX

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, and other madrigals from Books VI-IX
PERFORMER: Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
After ENO’s confused production of Il combattimento earlier this year, it comes as a revelation to hear two such illuminating, if quite different, performances. Tragicomedia, a seven-piece early-music group, plays with superb incisiveness, vividly evoking the anger and noise of battle. Presided over by the American tenor Douglas Nasrawi’s commanding narrator, this is a brilliant realisation, dramatically – one is left in no doubt of its tragedy – and musically.


Les Arts Florissants, with an eleven-piece band (the lirone specialist Erin Headley plays with both ensembles), produce a sound of greater depth and resonance, but the breakneck speed at which the piece is taken – it lasts almost five minutes less than the Tragicomedia version – detracts from the work’s inherent pathos. Adrian Brand, Nicolas Rivenq and Françoise Semellaz sing with great musicality but not much conviction.

Apart from Il combattimento, the content of the discs differs completely. Les Arts Florissants offer a selection of later madrigals. Again, the performances are exemplary but unemotional, though the two tenor duets, ‘Mentre vaga Angioletta’ and ‘Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti’, exquisitely sung by Mark Padmore and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, are close to perfection.


Tragicomedia opts for two of Monteverdi’s less familiar dramatic works. In Il ballo delle ingrate, Päivi Järviö’s boyish mezzo makes her an untypical Venus, but her purity of tone contrasts beautifully with Harry van der Kamp’s robust Pluto. And the enchanting duet Tirsi e Clori, with John Potter’s agile tenor combined with Suzie Le Blanc’s sweet soprano, provides the highlight of an exemplary recital. Claire Wrathall