This is the final instalment of a three volume survey charting Monteverdi’s evolving style from the traditional five voice madrigals of Books I and II (his early days in Cremona), the intensifying of expressive devices in Books II to VI (at the Court of Mantua), and culminating in the dramatic scena and concerto style of the mighty books VII and VIII (from his glory days in Venice). Mixing familiar masterworks like Chiome d’oro and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda with lesser known delights makes for a well-balanced recital; the series is an ideal taster for listeners daunted by all those complete Libri.
The superb ensemble includes Pinchgut regular Miriam Allen doing a star turn in Con che soavità. She also turns up (uncredited in the booklet) in Lamento della Ninfa – a lovely performance with the three men relishing the clashing suspensions but not overdoing the effect. Director Paul Agnew still sounds splendid after all these years, pulling out all the stops as Testo for the Combattimento – Hannah Morrison’s Clorinda is pure and chaste, her concluding ascent is ethereal.
Instrumental support is hugely accomplished with lithe strings, the continuo luxuriant with plucked instruments and organ but not overbearing. Recording is transparent in an intimate acoustic but the low level requires a lift in volume. These are elegant and stylish performances, cooler than Italian groups Concerto Italiano and La Venexiana, but vivid with theatrical intensity.