Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Music: Claudio Monteverdi Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci con uno dialogo (Venice, 1614) Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini

Claudio Monteverdi
Il sesto libro de madrigali
Concerto Italiano / Rinaldo Alessandrini
Naive Records 30423

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) wrote many compositions for voice and is notable for his larger pieces, both religious and secular, L'Orfeo (1609), Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610), and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642). These pieces prompted former New York Times Classical Music Critic Harold C. Schoenberg to label Monteverdi the “Reformer of Opera.” Monteverdi was also prolific in the smaller setting of the madrigal.

The madrigal is a musical setting for three to eight voices most often based on secular texts and sung in Italian. It is a distant relative of the frottola, and was impacted by Renaissance motets and chansons. The heyday of the Madrigal began in 1533 with publication of Philippe Verdelot’s (c. 1480 – c. 1530) Primo libro di Madrigali (1522) reaching its zenith with the nine books of madrigals (1587 – 1651, last books published posthumously) of Monteverdi.

The subject of Monteverdi’s madrigals ranged from love lost and found to the sensual and even erotic. His sixth book of madrigals, Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci con uno dialogo, is devoted to parting ways in all its varieties. The parting may be of a permanent variety, such as death, or a simple departure, as a husband leaves for work in the morning. This sixth book contains the last of Monteverdi’s a cappella madrigals. Book seven and on use a basso continuo as an evolutionary element.

The modern ear cannot listen to these madrigals and immediately pick up on the more subtle emotional textures therein. The uninitiated listen to this music will immediately strike the listener as very old music, from the Renaissance or before. These particular madrigals were composed a bit earlier than their 1614 publication date. Monteverdi composed these pieces shortly after the deaths of his wife, Claudia Cattaneo in 1607 and Caterina Martinelli, for whom he composed the roll of Arianna in his opera, L'Arianna. The opening four part selections to this release are from L'Arianna’s Lamento, the only remaining text from the opera. The singing is somber, the soloists crisp and bright.Make no mistake, this is not choral music, it is secular music full of love, sex, loss, betrayal, death, life, blood and sweat:

“…I must burn with love and sigh for you
For I was yours, and having lost you
Cannot be grieved by any other misfortune…”

Ohime il bel viso

The same can be said of the entire collection. Timbre rise and fall, it is easy on multiple listens to detect insistency, grief, loss, and contrition. Rinaldo Alessandrini has already proven himself a foremost performer and interpreter of Medieval and Baroque Italian music in his resurrection of Vivaldi and his superb interpretation of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Monteverdi’s own Vespro Della Beata Vergine, 1610. Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano is a crack period-instrument ensemble. This fine orchestra is used in an abbreviated yet essential role here, but can be heard in their full glory on their full orchestral recordings.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006