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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: 15 minutes 32 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

Sestina 'Lagrime d'amante al sepolcro dell'amata', SV111
Madrigals, Book 6; a lament for the singer Caterina Martinelli
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Each of Monteverdi’s last three books of madrigals—all published while he was choirmaster of San Marco, Venice—is imbued with a distinctive character. Most of the madrigals of Book 6 (1614) are songs of parting and loss. Book 7 (1619) is entitled Concerto, meaning that all the works it contains require instrumental accompaniment. And Book 8 (1638) introduces the genere concitato—the ‘agitated’ manner that Monteverdi devised to convey the emotions of war, whether physical or psychological.

All three books may have been published during Monteverdi’s Venetian years, but Book 6 was certainly being planned, and its contents probably written, during Monteverdi’s years as choirmaster at the court of Mantua. In a letter of 26 July 1610, Bassano Cassola, Monteverdi’s assistant at Mantua, wrote:

[Monteverdi] is also preparing a collection of five-part madrigals, which will contain three laments: that one of Ariadne, with the usual melody throughout; the plaint of Leander and Hero by Marini; and the third, given to him by His Most Serene Highness, of a shepherd whose nymph is dead, to words by the son of the Lord Count Lepido Agnelli on the death of Signora Romanina.

Monteverdi’s setting of the plaint of Leander and Hero no longer survives, if indeed it was ever written. But his five-voice arrangement of the lament of Ariadne from his opera Arianna of 1608, and Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata (‘Tears of a lover at the tomb of the beloved’), cast in the virtuoso poetic form of a sestina, form the two main pillars of Book 6, the first at its opening, the second at its centre. The sestina is a lament for ‘the little Roman girl’ (‘Signora Romanina’)—the singer Caterina Martinelli, for whom the title role of Arianna was written.

Caterina Martinelli, who died from smallpox at the age of eighteen shortly before the first performance of Arianna, was a favourite of duke Vincenzo Gonzaga. The duke’s agents recruited her in 1603, and she was brought to Mantua, having first undergone a virginity test, and lodged in Monteverdi’s house, to be trained by him and perhaps also by his wife Claudia, herself a singer at court. When Caterina died, the duke had her body interred in a marble tomb in the Carmelite church in Mantua (now destroyed). As we learn from Cassola’s letter, it was the duke, too, who commanded Monteverdi to set the sestina in Caterina’s memory. The sestina text is a series of six six-line stanzas with the end-words of the lines of stanza 1 rotated in a prescribed sequence in the subsequent stanzas. The text is rounded off by a three-line envoi, included by Monteverdi in Part 6 of his setting, in which all the ‘end-words’ appear.

Monteverdi was clearly deeply moved by Caterina’s death, and his setting is by turns sombre and agonized. Sometimes the voices chant together, sometimes grate against each other as emotion breaks through. At these points Monteverdi occasionally casts aside Agnelli’s careful word order, as in Part 5, to create the climactic phrase ‘Ohimè! [chi vi] nasconde?’ (‘Alas, who hid you there?’) which quotes the opening music of Arianna’s lament, now hidden in the lament for its intended singer.

from notes by John Whenham © 2014

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