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Hyperion Records

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Flora (1559, detail) by Jan Massys (1509-1575)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA68019
Recording details: March 2013
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by David Hinitt & Robert Cammidge
Release date: February 2014
Total duration: 4 minutes 22 seconds

'The latest disc from Jonathan Cohen’s virtuoso ensemble Arcangelo is a musical love story, complete with lovers’ quarrel, tearful partings and tragic endings. Bringing together the Sestinas from Books 6-8 of Monteverdi’s madrigals, the programme explores the gamut of the composer’s mature style, evolving from the crystallised 'prima prattica' perfection of Book 6 to the 'genere concitato' (agitated style) of Book 8. All of Cohen’s singers come from the world of opera, and it shows in performances that place the drama of 'le parole' to the fore. The astonishing harmonic flexibility and melodic narrative of Monteverdi’s writing translates here into urgent drama … among so much vocal athleticism, it’s still the instrumentalists of the ensemble that dominate, setting the disc apart from the excellent I Fagiolini recordings that come closest vocally to this kind of abandon. Sitting midway between the nervous energy of Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano and the more measured intensity of Jordi Savall for the Book 8 works, Arcangelo’s musicians deploy rough-edged expressive risk-taking within a framework of complete stylistic control' (Gramophone) » More

'These are not easy pieces, but the opening ballet swings along with panache, and there is some excellent tenor solo singing in the first section … the two sopranos in the duet Ohimè, dov'è il mio ben show poise and taste' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'This is a wonderful disc, presenting Monteverdi the dramatist and the creator of vivid aural pictures. Presented in such vivid recorded sound and by such accomplished musicians, intuitively directed by the excellent Jonathan Cohen, it provides an invaluable and hugely attractive addition to the composer’s already generous representation on disc' (International Record Review) » More

Ohimè il bel viso, ohimè il soave sguardo, SV112
Madrigals, Book 6
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In Book 6, the sestina is followed immediately by a setting of Petrarch’s sonnet Ohimè il bel viso, ohimè il soave sguardo, the first in his Canzoniere reflecting his sense of loss after the death of his beloved Laura. In Monteverdi’s setting the cry ‘Ohimè’ (‘Alas’) is set for solo sopranos, against a trio of male voices. But whereas in the sestina Monteverdi invented repeated cries where the poet supplied only one, here Petrarch repeats the word over and over again in the first five lines of his text, fully supporting Monteverdi’s long, plangent musical paragraph. Clear parallels between the music of Ohimè il bel viso and that of the sestina suggest that the Petrarch setting may also be a tribute to Caterina Martinelli, and, indeed, Petrarch’s description of Laura could equally well have described the young singer, whose tombstone was inscribed:

Caterina Martinelli … dear above all to Vincenzo, Serene Duke of Mantua, for that famous excellence, the sweetness of her manner, her beauty, her grace and charm, snatched away, alas, by bitter death.

from notes by John Whenham © 2014

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