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GRAMOPHONE (01/2023)
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Reviewer :
Alexandra Coghlan

Monteverdi’s madrigals, combining and colliding them every which way. Most recently the focus has been on thematic recitals aimed explicitly at a broader market (‘Night’ and ‘Daylight’ – both on Naïve, 6/17, 1/22), which dart to and fro across the whole repertoire making new connections and narratives. But now – purists rejoice! – there’s a new complete volume, and it’s a cracker.

It’s also not quite as simple as that. This is Book 7, but not as you know it. A mustread booklet essay by Alessandrini himself frames the new recording as a philosophical and dramatic undertaking rather than an exercise in completism. Characteristically, the two discs do not follow the published order of the book; texts by individual poets are grouped together, as (sometimes) are madrigals with a shared focus, and the emphasis is once again on textural contrast and balance – a satisfying recital experience, in other words. The sequence of Marino’s ‘baci’ poems (‘Perche fuggi’, ‘Vorrei baciarti’, ‘Tornate, o cari baci’, ‘Eccomi pronta’) are particularly effective – musical kisses, some tender, some jealous or snatched.

The first thing to say is just how vivid and foreground it all sounds. Listen back to Alessandrini’s earlier ‘Tirsi e Clori’ (Opus 111/Naïve, 1999) and it’s like the whole drama has stepped beyond the proscenium and into the room. Speeds may be slower in the recent account but the effect is the reverse; there’s a new energy driving the dialogue forwards, and the ensemble dances and ensembles towards the end throb with vitality. Clori herself is sterner, less obviously flirtatious than Les Arts Florissants’ (Harmonia Mundi, 4/17), but the demure shepherdess still has plenty of charm. Moods are boldly drawn. The mock-pain of ‘Eccomi pronto ai baci’ grinds deep in clashing tenors and bass; the ‘tiny Cupid’ in ‘Dice la mia bellissima licori’ flits with insect-like delicacy; two sopranos (in contrast to the rather querulous countertenors we get for the upper-voice madrigals in Delitiæ Musicæ and Marco Longhini’s recording – Naxos, 2008) wallow in the delicious pain of love in ‘Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben?’. Instrumental sinfonias unfold in glossy layers of strings, a sensitive and ever-shifting backdrop to the excellent soloists.

This is opera without the stage – a riveting and incredibly stylish account of this vast and varied book of music. Well worth the wait.



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