Proms Chamber Music – 7 (I Fagiolini)

Motets – Annunciate gentes; Ardens est cor meum
Sonata decima ottava a 2
Ch’io t’ami; Ahi, come a un vago soi [Fifth Book of Madrigals 1605]
Motet – Turbabuntur impii
Sonata decima sesta a doi violini

I Fagiolini
Robert Hollingworth (harpsichord and direction)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 29 August, 2005
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

2005 marks the 400th anniversary of both Giacomo Carissimi’s birth and the publication of Claudio Monteverdi’s Fifth Book of Madrigals; his ground-breaking Fourth Book had emphasised the primacy of the poetic text and a loosening of the academic rules of counterpoint.

I Fagiolini, comprising a vocal ensemble supported by a continuo section (harpsichord, organ, harp, two theorbos and a fourteen-stringed, flat-bridged bowed instrument called a lirone) performed two madrigals from Monteverdi’s Fifth Book, surrounding his strange soundworld with three motets and the oratorio “Jonah” (the latter in keeping with this year’s Proms sea theme) by Carissimi. As a respite from these often intense vocal works, the continuo was joined by two violinists and one ‘bass violinist’ to present two sonatas by Uccellini (possibly born in 1605).

Carissimi’s motet “Annunciate gentes populi” (Proclaim to the people of the Lord), for two sopranos, tenor, alto and bass, with continuo, opened the lunchtime concert, and revealed the composer’s fondness for setting each verse for each voice in turn, a combination of voices alternating with soloists or tutti contrasting with the former two possibilities. I Fagiolini eased into this work, taking a little time to warm up but still managing to keep a handle on the often florid ornamentation and sectional nature of the writing. A change of line-up followed for “Ardens est cor nostrum” (Our hearts are burning), a motet for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, and continuo. Here I Fagiolini raised the emotional temperature a notch, making the most of the chromatic writing and lavishly ornamenting the close; the continuo group also pressed the lirone into service, injecting a beautifully pungent timbre to the harmony.

The profuse elaboration and divisions contrasting with curious harmonic progressions made Uccellini’s Sonata No.18 for two violins a perfect transition to the Monteverdi. I Fagiolini (this time director-less) unleashed the three sections of the five-voice a cappella “Ch’io t’ami” (If you know not that I love thee), with its extravagant language and erotic conceits, upon the unsuspecting audience with great style and passion, the torturous harmonies, complex dynamics and frequent unprepared suspensions reminding one very much of Gesualdo’s forays into the genre. “Ahi come a un vago sol” (As if towards a sweet and gentle sun) followed, featuring two tenors whose duetting was punctuated by the remaining three voices’ dramatic intrusions and a shifting, affective use of the continuo section (this was the first-ever madrigal to have used a bass line supported by harmonic instruments).

Two more works by Carissimi, a final dramatic motet “Turbabuntur impii” (The wicked will be troubled) and the oratorio “Jonah” for double choir with violins and continuo ended the concert; between them came another delightful Sonata a 2 by Uccellini. The performance of the Lenten oratorio “Jonah”, in which is recounted (by a group of narrators, Jonah himself, and a chorus) the story of the eponymous hero’s redemption after being swallowed by a whale and the subsequent turning of the iniquitous people of Niniveh towards the Lord, was remarkably effective given the small forces.

Entirely relying on declamation, antiphonal effects and colouring from the instrumental group (which provided a fine introductory Sinfonia), this work makes it easy to draw a parallel with the medieval Mystery plays and Greek theatre; Hollingworth and his group emphasised this through a flexible recitativo and made the most of the dramatic potential.

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