Monteverdi Madrigals, Book 4

Author: 
Iain Fenlon

Monteverdi Madrigals, Book 4

  • Madrigals, Book 4 (Il quarto libro de madrigali)

Monteverdi's Fourth Book, first published in 1603 and much reprinted in his lifetime, is a wide-ranging collection of pieces written during the previous ten years. Dedicated to the members of a literary and debating society in Ferrara, its contents show all the evidence of the composer's experience of the extraordinary musical and literary resources of the Ferranese and Mantuan courts during the 1590s. Originally written for performance before a select audience by an ensemble of professional virtuoso singers, these madrigals, many of which are set to the sensuous, emotional and epigrammatic verses of Guarini and Tasso, demonstrate Monteverdi's seemingly inexhaustible ability to unite words and music in expressively effective ways.
A complete and profound understanding of textual nuance is, then, central to any successful performance and here the Concerto Italiano begins with an obvious and considerable advantage over any group of non-Italians. Some of the finest madrigals in the Fourth Book are those involving direct speech, which allowed Monteverdi to make full use of the court virtuosi, famed for their abilities to combine clear declamation with dramatic gestures and subtle shadings of dynamics and speed. In general the Concerto Italiano have taken the combined messages of music and history to heart; these are performances infused with a flexible approach to tempo and strong projection of text geared to a determination to allow each detail of the words to speak with due force. The singing style itself is muscular without losing its ability to move into a gentler mood, the vocal balance good, the overall sound rich in its lower registers and bright and clear in the upper ones. At times, as in Ah dolente partita and Si ch'io vorrei morire, Alessandrini's speeds seem almost dangerously slow, but in the end the brinkmanship pays off triumphantly. At its best, as here, this record is simply without equal.
Any comparison with The Consort of Musicke's 1986 recording is, in the end, as much to do with taste as anything else, though it is beyond question that the Concerto Italiano have a deeper understanding of the texts and how they should be projected. Where some may find The Consort rather decorous to the extent of dealing with sound rather than sense, effect rather than emotion, others will undoubtedly feel that the Concerto have taken too many liberties with the style. What is remarkable is that two such very different views of the entire Fourth Book, one of which is so convincingly presented by an Italian ensemble, are now available. The implications of this are truly a cause for celebration in this Monteverdi year.'

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