Monteverdi/I Fagiolini

Volgendo il ciel
Arianna – Lamento d’Arianna
Il ballo delle ingrate

I Fagiolini
Robert Hollingworth

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 28 July, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

I Fagiolini. Photograph: Eric RichmondWe heard exemplary performances of three texts by Ottavio Rinuccini. The first exhorted Ferdinand “King of the Roman Empire” to join with the sun in bringing peace to the realm, ending with eloquent praise for the might of his deeds. Nicholas Mulroy gave these pleas in stirring voice, mellow and quietly resonant. There were two sections for chorus – the first nimble and deft, referring to maidens dancing, the second rougher and sturdier, referring to Ferdinand’s military exploits. In the latter, the string contribution thickened aggressively.

“Arianna’s Lament” came in Monteverdi’s arrangement for five voices conveying a sustained emotional identity, given colour according to which singers were currently employed. Thus the core “Let me die, let me die!” came from a female voice, while the references to Theseus’s departure and his welcome in Athens were sung by baritone or bass.

The 25-minute “Il ballo delle ingrate” was imposing. The theme of the text was a surprise. A special corner of the underworld was apparently reserved for beautiful ladies who had persistently disclaimed their devoted admirers unrelentingly. Cupid (Anna Crookes) and Venus (Clare Wilkinson) descend to implore from Pluto (Jonathan Sells) a second chance for these cold-hearted ladies, to enable them, this time, to respond to Cupid’s arrows and learn to pity the earthly torments of men in love, adoring. “Too late”, pronounces Pluto, while one of the ungrateful ladies bewails a return to the dark and the torment. Learn to pity your male admirers!

Jonathan Sells received the warmest acclaim. He was sepulchral, indeed. His incantations had impressive length, filled with gravity. His lower register showed signs of strain, however and greater richness in the deeper notes would have carried more weight. His upper register was suited to lighter tones. Clare Wilkinson and Anna Crookes were admirable in their ease and command over often-tricky ornamentation.

In this last piece we heard the organ for the only time. Previously, I had enjoyed an accompanying duet involving baroque harp and theorbo. The strings from Barokksolisten were a little stiff. One of the glories of I Fagiolini is how its members combine meticulous precision with warmth and spontaneity; its members depict Monteverdi as resoundingly human as well as being a master of composition.

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