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J.F. Weber
Fanfare, December 2007

The odd thing about the latest installment of Longhini's traversal of the published books of madrigals is the length of Book 6, too long to fit on a single CD as the five previous complete recordings of these works have managed to do. He simply lengthens the performance of each madrigal by as much as 40 percent, that being the increased timing of the opening five-voice Lamento d'Arianna over Consort of Musicke's version. But this is a calculated decision to reject speed and agility in favor of expression, allowing the harmonic subtleties to unfold. Longhini makes up for it by filling the second disc with all the miscellaneous madrigals published in collections of various composers, along with the solo lament for comparison with the madrigal arrangement.

Longhini's previous discs have been unique not only for the all-male ensemble but for allotting instrumental accompaniment to half of the pieces in each book, thus providing contrasting performance practice for works that are usually (though not of necessity) performed only vocally. Book 6 is a different case. Monteverdi designated six of the pieces (as he did for the last six pieces of Book 5) as concertato settings, and these are invariably performed with instruments, though no more than one or two in some versions. The Consort of Musicke departed from their usual unaccompanied interpretations to use a lavish array of as many as 11 instruments, employing them in all but the Sestina and the piece that immediately follows it. Longhini has a different group of 10 instruments (more bowed strings) and he uses them throughout the book. Even so, the Sestina is limited to harp and organ, and the piece that follows it uses only a lute. But even at most, only in a couple of pieces does Longhini use more than four instruments. Hence, in this respect at least, these two sets are more alike than their competitors (I have not heard Raffaello Monterosso on Capriole).

Listening to the lament in these two versions, it is astonishing to hear how well the piece works at either tempo. Hearing Longhini first, there was no sense of dragging out the tempo, nor did the Consort of Musicke seem to be rushing things as its performance unfolded afterwards. Longhini's tempo gave me more time to savor the aching tragedy, and I would not begrudge the extra time taken to hear it. Turning to the Sestina, the first work ever recorded (in 1928), it also sounds right either way, though Longhini is only 30 percent slower in this case. The two cycles fall at the beginning of the two halves of the book, each followed by a sonnet of Petrarch. The rest of each half consists of the concertato madrigals. The variety thus wrapped up into one book places it in the time after the composer's large seconda prattica works, distinguishing the works from the first five books of madrigals that were published before L 'Orfeo and the Vespro had appeared.

The 12 madrigals published in collections between 1593 and 1634 are a mixed lot. Longhini says that the 1593 group of five pieces has never been recorded, but he overlooked I0 ardo sì on an obscure Guilde Internationale du Disque LP. Most of the other seven have appeared several times recently (28:4, 29:3, 30:5, 30:6). The comparative rarities are a come vaghi, recorded by Alan Curtis (22:6), Taci Armel/in, not recorded since Concerto Vocale (9:6; now as HMA 1901084), and even La mia Turca, which is included in only two of the four discs just cited. Still, we can be grateful for four first recordings, just about the last entry in the Monteverdi discography (an assertion I've made before while overlooking all the odds and ends). Countertenor Paolo Costa takes the solo lament very effectively, though the piece would seem to belong to a woman. Yet the first recording ever was made by Louis Graveure, and, as unlikely as it sounds, even Ezio Pinza tried it.

Longhini's project has grown on me as its logic became clear and the excellence of execution continued to impress. If you didn't cave in for the splendid Book 5, this set should leave no doubt. Hear both, and you will probably go back for the first four discs as well.

C. Moore
American Record Guide, December 2007

By not singing or playing an instrument, Marco Longhini can devote all his attention to conducting his first-rate Delitiae Musicae ensemble. He can ask for a lot from them, and he does. Both wide and subtle changes in tempo, dynamics and attack, along with a full array of expression and color are all at Longhini's disposal; and he does not yield to the temptation to flaunt the skills of his ensemble for their own sake. For example, astringent harmonies at the close of the 'Zefira Torna' (one of the 12 anthology madrigals included in this 2-CD set) are fully embraced by the singers and sound both warm and powerful. The biting harmony is not stressed to show off the skill of the ensemble, but completely in the service of the words and music.

The performances are compelling, simultaneously controlled and imaginative. This is very demanding music to take to a deep level of interpretation. Delitiae Musicae goes beyond a "fine rendering" of Monteverdi's intentions. When performers have the ability, the desire and the opportunity (in this case the record label's contract for the complete Monteverdi madrigals) to engage music at this deep level, they must make new things. But this must not be novelty for its own sake or novelty to serve the ego of the ensemble. It must serve the needs of the music and, perhaps, the audience.

Two lament cycles are the heart of Book 6, published in 1614: Lamento D'Arianna and Sestina: Lacrimae D'Amante Al Sepolcro Dell'Amata. Both fit the volume's overall theme of parting and longing.  Taken together, the other eight madrigals in Book 6 look backwards and forwards musically by demonstrating Monteverdi's command of the old style and his leadership in the new. Strong word-painting and passages for solo voice (in 'Presso Un Fiume Tranquillo', for example) look and "sound" forward to the concertato summits of Book 8.

Instances of excellence are too numerous to describe here, but the depiction of laughter in music ('Qui Risi, O Tirsi') memorably demonstrates these artists' ability to convey deep meaning. This is bittersweet laughter, not a chortle or a belly-laugh. It is remembered laughter, a sad, wistful laughter that captures how we re-collect our emotions.

12 madrigals from anthologies are included here (five of which -from the early 1590s- have not been recorded before), along with the 1623 solo version of Lamento D'Arianna. The latter is very well sung by Paolo Costa, one of the countertenors of Delitiae Musicae (Longhini has chosen to use only male voices in this Monteverdi madrigals cycle). Longhini writes evocatively in the booklet notes about the contrast between the polyphonic (and seven minutes longer) setting of Ariadne's lament that opens Book 6 and this solo setting, likening the latter to a "big screen" close-up. For me the difference is more the immediate unfiltered emotions (solo) compared to the latter reflective ones (polyphonic). Regardless of how each of us makes the comparison, putting both settings in this set is another example of the thoughtful way this fine cycle is conceived and executed.

Notes, texts, translations. Very helpful references in the notes to other Naxos recordings in this cycle, even to volumes not yet released. John Barker favorably reviewed two recent Book 6 single CDs (N/D 2006: Concerto Italiano, Alessandrini & La Venexiana/ Cavina) with a fine update on the three recorded cycles currently underway. I encourage listeners to compare cycles in my review of Delitiae Musicae's Book 3 (S/O 2004).

J. F. Weber
Fanfare, November 2007

Listening to the lament in these two versions, it is astonishing to hear how well the piece works at either tempo. Hearing Longhini first, there was no sense of dragging out the tempo, nor did the Consort of Musicke seem to be rushing things as its performance unfolded afterwards. Longhini’s tempo gave me more time to savor the aching tragedy, and I would not begrudge the extra time taken to hear it.

Longhini’s project has grown on me as its logic became clear and the excellence of execution continued to impress. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

James McCarthy
Limelight, August 2007

Only male voices are used in these recordings, the compilers arguing that this is in accordance with the original practice. The countertenors make a distinctive sound, quite different from the female voices that can also sing the music, and do so when that unique and often rare male vocal style is unavailable. This secures the argument for me. This music was created and published in 1614 just as the era of opera was beginning where the dominance of the ensemble was giving way to the soloist. Monteverdi was the agent of this change and it would transform Western music forever. This set is the last he wrote in the form, giving up the style to devote himself fully to the richer and wider world of opera. Excellent notes and texts for all the madrigals are supplied, making it more than good value.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

We have now reached the year 1614, thirty years after the 17-year-old Claudio Giovanni Monteverdi had surprised the musical world with his first published book of madrigals, a fact that we must put into the context of a world where wide distribution of music was a major event. It had been an event not universally greeted, many seeing a young reactionary with new ideas that challenged the accepted order of composition, a situation that largely festered until he produced one of the defining works of the time, the Vespers of 1610. If to this point he had broken all ties with traditional musical styles, in the Sixth book he seemed to once more look back to where he had started from, the book divided in two parts both in the form of laments. The first sees the death of Arianna, and formed part of a much larger work now lost without trace. The second part, Sestina, relates the shepherd whose nymph has died, but was also composed on the death of a young Roman girl. The second disc is largely devoted to madrigals which formed part of publications shared with other composers, and mainly came from the later part of his life. The discs are performed, as in the whole series, by male voices, which would have been the case when the music was composed, the potency of countertenors bringing a bright tone to the ensemble. Though sadness is the key to the sixth book, there are moments of joy that are here expressed with vivacity, and even in sorrow the singers avoid that droopy sound we often hear. I would have welcomed more presence from the instrumental ensemble which is kept as a backdrop, though their few moments of prominence show admirable musicians. The sundry madrigals end with two groups for countertenor and instruments, the silvery voice of Alessandro Carmignani lovely in the two Arie de deversi, though it is the more rounded quality and fulsome lower register of Paolo Costa that excites me in the 1623 setting of the Lamento d'Arianna, the imaginative use of his voice amply colouring every phrase. The church acoustic is good, but I do wish the engineers had given the instrumental ensemble rather more prominence.

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