Monteverdi Madrigals, Book 8
Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, issued with the eye-catching title of Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (“Madrigals of Love and War”), was published in 1638, some 20 years after the appearance of the Seventh Book and four years before the composer’s death. Divided, as its title implies, into two roughly equal sections, the Eighth Book contains a wide range of pieces, from recent work in praise of Emperor Ferdinando III (the recently crowned dedicatee of the volume) to the
It is a brave choice. The rhetorical gestures of the genere concitato are few, simple, obvious and rapidly pall when over-used. Nor are they confined to the madrigali guerrieri alone, since the agitation caused by the pains of love can also call them up. The real interpretative difficulty is to invest these moments with sufficient drama and character that they emerge from their somewhat textbook status (Monteverdi’s preface invites us to consider him as a true intellectual) and come to life. The hallmarks of the Concerto Italiano’s approach are by now well known, and here their dramatic readings of these texts which involve the deployment of all the familiar devices of severe contrast, occasional changes of pace, subtle underscorings at cadences and the highlighting of dissonant moments are brought into play. Some of the speeds are surprising, almost extreme. I doubt, for example, that many ensembles would risk the slow opening of “Altri canti d’amor”, but the tactic pays off and the point becomes clear when the percussive explosions of the concitato section are offered by way of contrast.
The star performance of the disc is “Hor ch’el ciel e la terra” which begins with a magically poetic evocation, through exquisitely voiced repeated chords, of the stillness of the night before settling into a depiction of the lover’s pain, achieved here through sharp stabbing motions of almost mannerist exaggeration. The Concerto’s account of the second part (“Cosi soil d’una chiara fonte viva”) is remarkable, not least for its inspired isolation of vocal lines of great lyrical power passed between the voices; the result is a revelation. There are now a good number of recordings of the pieces from the Eighth Book available, but no serious Monteverdian can afford to be without this one.'