Monteverdi: Orfeo

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Orfeo
PERFORMER: Laurence Dale, Efrat Ben-Nun, Jennifer Larmore, Paul Gérimon, Harry PeetersConcerto Vocale/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901553/54 DDD
Recorded in January in the studios of German Radio, this performance originated in a Salzburg Festival production of 1993. The sound of Monteverdi’s orchestra, with its heady mix of vibrant, textured colours, has been splendidly captured by the engineers.

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While his recent recordings of Cavalli’s Calisto seemed to me overly free, here René Jacobs, working with much more detailed sources (Orfeo was twice published in full score during the composer’s life), is guided equally by the letter and the spirit. The result is a living work of art, not a museum piece.

In the low-lying title role Laurence Dale seems to have lost some of his vocal brightness (though a hint of spread tone may be the result of over-close miking). He makes up for it with keen enunciation of the text, but his big number, ‘Possente spirto’, is not as fluent as it might be. As Euridice and Music, Efrat Ben-Nun proves a find. Hers is not a stereotypical ‘early-music’ voice; instead she combines richness of tone with a formidable technique and an expressive use of words.

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Jennifer Larmore’s Messenger is eloquent, Bernarda Fink’s Proserpina finely sung and the smaller parts (there are particularly good shepherds) come together to form a mellifluous consort. George Hall