Edward Breen welcomes the completion of a 30-year project to record all the madrigals
Concerto Italiano – multiple Gramophone Award winners – complete their Monteverdi madrigal anthology begun 30 years ago (12/93) with this handsome collection from Naïve, which includes their latest release of the first and ‘last’ books. Looking back to the Gramophone Awards issue (11/94), Iain Fenlon wrote of their Quarto libro de’ madrigali: ‘Here, for the first time in the history of recording, a group of singers who really understand the language as only native Italians can has really shown us all the subtleties of Monteverdi’s powerful and moving rhetoric.’ This sentence captures the excitement surrounding early discs in this set and now, at the other end of the project, we can consider their treatment of Monteverdi’s compositional trajectory. Have Concerto Italiano, so enmeshed in this particular musical and literary epoch, invoked a sense of unfolding ‘baroquification’ despite recording these madrigals out of sequence and over three decades?
In the physical box, the first disc is both the latest and last recording: it combines Il primo libro – which musicologist Paolo Fabri memorably described as a ‘proving ground’ – with the posthumous Madrigali e canzonette a due e tre voci, libro nono, published in 1651 by Alessandro Vincenti. The accompanying booklet contains an essay by Alessandrini stressing the importance of the poetry: ‘To overlook, neglect or otherwise subordinate the poetic text to the music in the way we listen today runs the risk of not only betraying the explicit premises of Monteverdi’s poetics (and not only his), but misrepresenting a more general cultural context’, alongside which Renzo Bragantini explores Monteverdi as experimentalist, describing how he moves from ‘what tradition has to offer [towards] Baroque elements’.
For the full text of this review please click: Gramophone, February 2024