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GRAMOPHONE (09/2021)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

It seems, at first, astonishing that this is La Compagnia del Madrigale’s first recording of Monteverdi madrigals. The award-winning Italian ensemble have given us the composer’s 1610 Vespers (7/17) and his spiritual works (with the occasional madrigal thrown in – 6/16), but this is the first time they’ve turned their focus solely on the secular repertoire.

But then you consider that so many members of the group have already recorded the madrigals both as La Venexiana and with Concerto Italiano, and the delay in returning to this music becomes clear. It’s particularly poignant that this return should coincide with the death of veteran bass Daniele Carnovich – founding member of La Compagnia and an anchoring presence on so many of those earlier accounts. Carnovich’s last recorded performances are preserved here, his place filled in later sessions by Matteo Bellotto.

At the heart of this programme is the title work, Monteverdi’s Book 6 sestina ‘Lagrime d’amante’. Curiously, this extended lament shows the group at far less of an advantage than the earlier madrigals included here from Cremona and Mantua. Compare it to Concerto Italiano’s account (Naïve, 8/06), which twists the knife in every dissonance and carves every expressive detail deep with their voices. La Compagnia have a pristine quality, a lightness that comes into its own in Ecco mormorar l’onde or A un giro sol – catching their translucent beauty as the ear passes imperceptibly through the voices – but which doesn’t wring and twist as much from the madrigals of loss.

The contrast is clearest in Zefiro torna, its dancing, triple-time opening giving way to anguished, weighty grief. We get deliciously breezy interplay in the upper voices at the start but lack the dragging, fingernails-clawing-the-earth ugliness of what follows. These are idiomatic, elegant performances, the texts articulated with care by their Italian speakers; but there’s an extra gear, found in their recent Gesualdo recordings, that we lack here.


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