Piagne e sospira [Fourth Book of Madrigals]
Vivrò fra i miei tormenti; Vattene pur [Third Book of Madrigals]
Sovente, allor che su gli estivi ardori; Giunto alla tomba, ove al suo spirto vivo; Usciva omai dal molle e fresco grembo; Vezzosi augelli infra le verdi fronde [Seventh Book of Madrigals)
Forsennata gridava: O tu che proti; Qual musico gentil, prima che chiara; Misera non credea [Eighth Book of Madrigals]
Rossana Bertini (soprano)
Nadia Ragni (soprano)
Claudio Cavina (alto & director)
Sandro Naglia (tenor)
Giuseppe Maletto (tenor)
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: 19 May, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
Torquato Tasso’s epic “Gerusalemme liberata”, written in 1581, fired the imaginations of both his contemporaries and successors (whether they worked in paint or music) to such an extent that the fabric of whatever medium they sought to clothe the text in was rent asunder by its sheer emotional intensity. Dealing with the fates of star-crossed lovers (like those of the Christian Rinaldo and the Saracen Armida or Tancredi and Clorinda) against the backdrop of the First Crusade, Tasso’s verse contained such startling imagery as lovers uniting only in the stomach of some wild beast who had consumed them both or imparting life to a corpse by kissing its lips.
Composers Giaches de Wert (1535-1596) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) were two such artists to be inspired by Tasso’s verses; Wert’s polite “Prima Pratica” school of composition riddled with expressionistic devices, Monteverdi’s nascent “Seconda Pratica” lurching towards the chiaroscuro world of his Fourth Book of Madrigals via both his own Third Book and Wert’s Eighth. Both composers became slaves to the rhythm and emotional force of Tasso’s verses; their music is sometimes incomprehensible without reference to the text (cf Gesualdo’s Fifth Book of Madrigals). In this concert, the audience likewise became slaves, not only to the text but also to La Venexiana’s masterful delivery.
The members of La Venexiana are arguably the foremost interpreters of the Italian madrigal today. This concert demonstrated why: the singers possess a rich, full-bodied sound combined with a stylish approach to interpretation that eschews the more mannered approach of Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano (of whom La Venexiana’s personnel used to form the core before striking out on their own). Forthright homophonic declamations were beautifully entwined with intense melismatic passages; rhythmic and dynamic shading was employed intelligently and forcefully; tuning and blending were flexible and alert to the erotic subtexts. In fact, such was the purely sensual pleasure to be derived from the sound that it was difficult to focus on the text. Difficult – but essential. This was a concert that demanded much from the audience but gave much in return.