Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali – MDCXIV (1614)
Lamento d'Arianna, SV 107 [15:26]
Zefiro torna e ’l bel tempo rimena, SV 108 [3:50]
Una donna fra l'altre honesta e bella vidi, SV 109 (Concertato nel clavicimbalo) [3:56]
A Dio, Florida bella, SV 110 (Concertato) [4:38]
Sestina: Lagrime d'amante al sepolcro dell'amata, SV 111 [17:28]
Ohimè il bel viso, SV 112 [5:27]
Qui rise, O Tirsi, SV 113 (Concertato) [6:46]
Misero Alceo, SV 114 (Concertato) [5:24]
Batto, qui pianse ergasto, SV 115 (Concertato) [4:09]
Presso Un Fiume Tranquillo, SV 116 (Dialogo a 7. concertato) [5:40]
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
rec. The Convent of Saint Dominic (Sala Bolgnini), Bologna, Italy, May 1992
ARCANA A425 [72:50]

I came to Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali in a roundabout way. I first bought a wonderful disc by Concerto Vocale that contained both Zefiro torna and Lamento d'Arianna (HMC 901129). Those, however, were alternative settings of the first two madrigals of the sixth book, which in my opinion did not live up to the versions I already knew. I gave them time and they soon grew on me, so much so that I now have three versions on disc, more than any other set of madrigals.

My collection includes a stunning and much vaunted second recording which Concerto Italiano and Rinaldo Alessandrini made for naïve (OP 30423). The present recording, made some seven years earlier, is significantly slower, some nine minutes in total. For me, this slower tempo sometimes pays dividends. For example, the opening madrigal, Lamento d'Arianna, reworks the only surviving material from the composer’s second opera L'Arianna of 1608. Here the early version is about two and a half minutes slower. This gives the piece a greater gravitas, a tangible sense of loss. As Alessandrini makes clear in his booklet notes, loss is the main theme of the sixth book of madrigals. The slower tempo gives the performance a greater sense of the aching beauty of the version for solo voice.

Zefiro torna is marginally quicker here than in the second version. Whilst I have grown to love this version, it still cannot compare to that for two voices as featured in Book Nine. There is very little difference between the two Book Six versions; the tempo has no real effect on the music.

The other real masterpiece in the Sesto Libro is the second multi-movement madrigal, Sestina: Lagrime d'amante al sepolcro dell'amata (Tears of a lover at the tomb of the beloved). This lament was composed in memory of the eighteen-years-old singer Caterina Martinelli, Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga's favourite who had recently died of smallpox. The Duke, deeply moved by the young singer's death, commanded Monteverdi to set the Sestina text in her memory. The result is one of the composer’s most moving compositions, with again a little slower tempi of the earlier performance giving the work more of a sense of pathos.

As I said, this disc's marginally slower tempi give the performance a greater sense of loss. The slightly quicker second version has more drama. Curiously, Concerto Italiano's personnel—other than Allesandrini—has changed completely. Perhaps the development of Alessandrini’s thinking on Monteverdi martches the development of the group's sound. I greatly enjoy the performance by their earlier incarnation, especially the use of an alto and a countertenor, but they sound a little more secure in their later recording on naïve. That being said, I would not be without either recording, and would easily recommend either.

Stuart Sillitoe

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