MONTEVERDI Madrigals Books 5 & 6
This is the last instalment of Le Nuove Musiche’s complete Monteverdi madrigal cycle, of which Books 5 and 6 mark out a rough chronological midpoint. Book 6 is the dark heart of the composer’s output in the genre, its theme of grief seemingly endlessly rehearsed, crowned by the large-scale ‘Lamento d’Arianna’ and ‘Sestina’. Even the optimism of ‘Zefiro torna’ turns inwards and deliciously anguished at the end. Book 5 is more uniform, the introduction of instruments in the final numbers looking forwards to Monteverdi’s Venetian period.
The Dutch ensemble alternates a cappella and accompanied performance where no obbligato instruments are indicated. The tone is light, transparent and agreeable, the text intelligible throughout and the voices equal to the music’s challenges, barring the odd slip of intonation and ensemble. The readings are played pretty straight as regards rhythm; not for them the elaborate play with tactus that characterises the work of their Italian counterparts. This is especially evident in Book 5, though ‘Queste vaghi concenti’ has a greater sense of purpose; Book 6 is a touch more inflected throughout and offers a more varied listening experience.
That being said, one cannot help calling previous performances to the mind’s ear. Arianna’s invectives against her faithless lover lack Concerto Italiano’s controlled passion (Naïve, 8/06) or the excoriating rumination and wild changes of mood of Les Arts Florissants (whose recent miniature three-disc cycle is well worth revisiting, by the way – Harmonia Mundi, 1/15); such moments find few echoes here. More generally, repetitions of text and musical sequences that seem to shout out for a response (try the reiterations of ‘beata morte’ in ‘Ma, se con la pietà’ in Book 5) are delivered deadpan. These are missed opportunities in a repertory that boasts as many memorable performances as this.