MONTEVERDI Madrigals Books 7 & 8
This third and final disc from Les Arts Florissants’ cycle of madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi is, in every way, a fitting end to their journey. Each disc has been organised by the cities in which Monteverdi worked: Cremona (Books 1-3), Mantova (4-6) and, now, Venice (7 & 8), presenting lesser-known gems alongside famous works.
And what a journey! Just compare the opening of this album to that of Vol 1 to grasp how far Monteverdi’s dense, intense textures have expanded, and how the singers have grown with them. Take, for instance, the little-recorded ‘Al lume delle stelle’, where rising vocal phrases unfurl and look towards the stars as Tirsi is reminded of the glint in his lover’s eyes. The phrasing is incredibly spacious and, even at its slowest, text is always the driving force, to the extent that one can almost taste it. In the solo madrigals, Miriam Allan’s sublime singing in ‘Con che soavità’ is delicately imbued with a knowing glint. And in the extraordinary ‘Lettera amorosa’ Lucile Richardot finds a breathless immediacy quite different from Montserrat Figueras’s long, languid opening phrases (Alia Vox, 2014) but equally engaging.
As the focus shifts to Book 8, the diaphanous singing of Hannah Morrison and Miriam Allan in ‘Dolcissimo usignolo’, in which Paul Agnew introduces voices in a sequential fashion, shows the remarkable balance of these performances. The disc ends with ‘Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda’, famous for its stile rappresentativo. Here I prefer a more imposing narrator and more closely miked instruments, such as found on record by Rinaldo Alessandrini (Naïve, 12/98), yet the vivid atmosphere of Agnew’s performance is palpable and, as so often in these discs, his text-driven subtlety wins over.