Rinaldo Alessandrini, Part 2: The Secular Monteverdi

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Program: #21-31   Air Date: Jul 26, 2021

Considered perhaps the finest Monteverdi interpreter of our time, the Italian director of the Concerto Italiano guides us through madrigal books 3, 5 & 6.

NOTE: All of the music on this program features the Concerto Italiano conducted by our guest, Rinaldo Alessandrini.

I. Monteverdi: Il terzo libro de’madrigali.       Naive CD OP 30580.

 Monteverdi: Il Terzo Libro de Madrigali Product Image

No one knows better than Rinaldo Alessandrini that Monteverdi’s madrigals - to which he has dedicated a major part of his work and recordings over the past thirty years - were above all texts where the music was the servant and not the mistress.

This form of a cappella vocal polyphony, responding sensitively to the inflections of a highly expressive poetry, was born in the full flowering of Renaissance humanism and developed in the 17th Century by composers such as Monteverdi, Marenzio and Gesualdo, before being supplanted by the opera.

As the Italian maestro explains, in the Third Book of Madrigals we can already see how carefully the twenty-five-year-old Monteverdi chooses poetry, by Guarini and Tasso, for example, which is capable of “responding to the needs of the drama, of truth, humanity and emotionality, culminating at the end of his life in the lustrous triumph of his final works.”

From Early Music Review:  Monteverdi’s appointment to the court of Mantua in 1590 or 1591 brought to the young composer new opportunities, not the least of which was contact with the Mantuan maestro di cappella Giaches de Wert, one of the great madrigalists of the day, and two of the greatest poets active at of the end of the 16th century: Giovanni Guarini and Torquato Tasso, both occasional visitors to Mantua. Monteverdi’s arrival was also near- coincidental with the recent succession to the duchy of Vincenzo Gonzago, whose expansion of court musical activity included the establishment of a consort of singers modelled on the famous ‘concerto delle dame’ in the rival court at Ferrara.

Put all the above ingredients into the mixer and you arrive at Monteverdi’s third book of madrigals, Il terzo libro de’ madrigali, published in 1592. For Guarini, whose erotic poetry provided the bulk of Monteverdi’s settings in Book 3, and the taste for the sensual combination of high voices established at Ferrara it is necessary to look no further than the delicate tapestry of the first half of the opening madrigal, ‘La giovinetta pianta’, the luminescent texture employed in talking of ‘the tender young plant’ perhaps less potent than in more serious texts but sensuous none the less. All the madrigals in Book 3 are scored for five voices, still of course a cappella at this point in the composer’s development. One of the remarkable features is the manner in which Monteverdi consistently alternates contrasts of colour between high and low voices and texture between polyphony and homophony, nearly always to dramatic purpose. These characteristics are well illustrated in the final madrigal of the collection, the two-part ‘Rimanti in pace’, to a text by Livio Celiano, a pen name for Angelo Grillo. The declamatory poem is part direct speech and part narrative, the composer clearly differentiating the two by giving the parting Tirso’s departing words to his Fillida, ‘Stay and peace be with you’, given to upper voices, while those narrated are darker and more homophonic. The brief cycle comes to a shattering conclusion with the reiteration of Fillida’s unbearably poignant motif, ‘Deh, cara anima mia’ (Tell me, dear heart of mine … who takes you from me?).

Such settings mark a foretaste of the innate dramatic gifts that would eventually lead to Monteverdi becoming the first great opera composer. They are even more in evidence in a pair of three-part cycles in which the text is drawn from episodes in Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, the first, ‘Vattene pur crudel’ describing the fury and then torment of Armida deserted by Rinaldo, the second the distress of the Christian knight Tancredi after he has killed the Saracen warrior-maiden Clorinda, a topic to which Monteverdi would return memorably in Book 8 almost fifty years later. The former, again a declamatory alternation of direct speech and narrative, the latter vividly descriptive at the point at the end of part 2, where Armida, faint from extreme emotion, lapses into unconsciousness as quiet dissonance takes over before the third part opens with a magical evocation of ‘nothing but empty silence all about her’ greets the reviving Armida.

The madrigal ensemble of Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano has gone through several reincarnations since he first started recording Monteverdi’s madrigals. Indeed Alessandro reminds us in a booklet note that it is fifteen years since his last complete madrigal book recording (Book 6). The present ensemble is at least a match for any of its predecessors, with both individuality – the two leading sopranos, Francesca Cassinari and Monica Piccinini, have pleasingly differentiated voices – and an excellent blend that retains enough clarity to allow contrapuntal strands to stand out clearly. Diction and articulation, too, are excellent. Just once or twice I did wonder if Alessandrini was making a little too much of tempo contrasts (‘O primavera’ is an example), but such doubts are rapidly banished within the context of such exceptionally musical performances.

Brian Robins        

  • 1Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "La giovinetta pianta” 03:16
  • 2Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "O come è gran martíre” 03:29
  • 3Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Sovra tenere erbette e bianchi fiori” 03:08
  • 4Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "O dolce anima mia, dunque è pur vero” 03:55
  • 5Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Stracciami pure il core” 03:28
  • 6Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "O rossignuol che in queste verdi fronde” 04:39
  • 7Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Se per estremo ardore” 03:24
  • 8Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Vattene pure, crudel. Vattene pure, crudel, con quella pace” 01:46
  • 9Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Vattene pure, crudel. Là tra il sangue e le morti egro giacente [seconda parte]” 02:35
  • 10Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Vattene pure, crudel. Poi ch’ella in sé tornò, deserto e muto [terza parte]” 03:45
  • 11Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "O primavera, gioventù dell’anno” 03:08
  • 12Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Perfidissimo volto” 03:44
  • 13Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Ch’io non t’ami, cor mio?” 04:22
  • 14Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Occhi, un tempo mia vita” 03:14
  • 15Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Vivrò fra i miei tormenti. Vivrò fra i miei tormenti e le mie cure [prima parte]” 01:15
  • 16Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Vivrò fra i miei tormenti. ma dove, oh lasso me! [seconda parte]”   02:52
  • 17Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Vivrò fra i miei tormenti. Io pur verrò là dove sete [terza parte]”   02:37
  • 18Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Lumi, miei cari lumi”   02:27
  • 19Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Rimanti in pace. Rimanti in pace [prima parte]”  03:31
  • 20Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci: "Rimanti in pace. Ond’ei, di morte la sua faccia impressa [seconda parte]”   03:48

Total Runtime    01:04:23

II. Monteverdi: Quinto Libro de Madrigali    Opus 111 CD OPS 30-166

Monteverdi: Quinto Libro de Madrigali (Fifth Book of Madrigals)
Monteverdi's Fifth Book of Madrigals begins like the Fourth Book--the first half of the publication contains five-voice a cappella madrigals (with optional continuo) that use surprising dissonances to express the images and sentiments of their texts with extraordinary intensity. The second half, however, breaks new ground: the continuo (i.e., accompanying chord instrument like harpsichord or lute) part becomes independent (and indispensable), thus enabling Monteverdi to set extended passages for one or two voices. One fine example is "T'amo, mia vita" ("I love you, my life")--a rapturous meditation by a young lover who has heard his beloved utter those words. Monteverdi sets the four words for solo soprano, repeating them between lines of the young man's reverie as if replayed over and over in his mind. Concerto Italiano's performance is, quite simply, extraordinary. --Matthew Westphal


1 Cruda Amarilli, Che Col Nome Ancora 3:17
2 O Mirtillo, Mirtillo, Anima Mea 2:33
3 Era L'anima Mea 4:04
4 Ecco, Silvio, Colei Ch'in Odio Hai Tanto 2:49
5 Ma Se Con la Pieta Non E In Te Spenta 3:21
6 Dorinda, Ah! Diro "mia" Se Mia Non Sei 2:13
7 Ecco, Piegando Le Ginnocchia A Terra 2:22
8 Ferir Quel Petto, Silvio? 3:58
9 Ch'io T'ami, E T'ami Piu de la Mia Vita 2:27
10 Deh! Bella E Cara E Si Soave Un Tempo 2:36
11 Ma Tu, Piu Che Mai Dura 3:36
12 Che Dar Piu Vi Poss'io? 3:32
13 'e Piu Dolce Il Penar Per Amarilli 3:32
14 Ahi, Com'a Un Vago Sol Cortese Giro 4:47
15 Troppo Ben Puo Questo Tiranno, Amore 3:21
16 Amor, Se Giusto Sei 3:12
17 "T'amo, Mia Vita", la Mia Cara Vita 2:32
18 E Cosi A Poco A Poco 3:18
19 Questi Vaghi Concenti 7:28

III. Il sesto libro de Madrigali  Naive CD OP 30423

Concerto Italiano / Rinaldo Alessandrini - Monteverdi: Il sesto libro de madrigali
Rinaldo Alessandrini is one of today’s most eminent Monteverdi authorities, and his highly acclaimed recordings with Concerto Italiano are now widely recognised as a reference point for music lovers all over the world. Recent achievements include the completion of Monteverdi’s trilogy of operas (directed by Robert Wilson) at La Scala in Milan and at the Opéra National de Paris, and a triumphal concert tour in Australia and New Zealand with the Vespro della Beata Vergine.

To mark the 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth, Arcana is proud to reissue the seminal recording of the Sixth Book of Madrigals performed by Concerto Italiano, which is also one of Arcana’s bestsellers.

Rinaldo Alessandrini describes the Sixth Book as the book of separation: permanent in the case of death; temporary in the case of lovers at daybreak. It is the book of poignant expression which culminates in the cycles of lamenti, whose autobiographical character is well known: the successive deaths of Monteverdi’s wife (Claudia Cattaneo) and his favourite singer (Caterina Martinelli). Its density of expression, its ‘italianità’, not exempt from theatricality, by turns luminous and despairing, make it the place where interpretation is the fundamental element, capable of overwhelming our contemporaries.  

From AllMusic.com:  The style of Italian early music conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano might be described as both strongly expressive and highly intelligent. Consider this recording of Monteverdi's Sixth Book of Madrigals, pieces that hover between the older polyphonic madrigal tradition and the newer, essentially soloistic and dramatic language of opera. The texts of these mostly five-part pieces focus almost exclusively on extremely melancholy depictions of mourning for love lost, mostly through death -- something Alessandrini in his detailed and highly informative notes attributes to the death of Monteverdi's wife and his favorite female student shortly before the music was composed. Alessandrini takes the ideal of text expression as paramount, downplaying larger formal details in favor of a sequence of extremely intense moments. The famous Zefiro torna, track 5, loses the perpetual-motion quality it is often given as Alessandrini takes the opening two stanzas quickly and draws a strong contrast with the third stanza ("for me, alas, the heaviest sighs return..."). The group's sensitivity to the poetry Monteverdi sets, and its ability to express its nuances, is often breathtaking. Hear the last of the six "Tears of a Lover at the Tomb of His Beloved" collectively entitled the "Sestina," where "constantly the winds and the earth repeat: 'Alas, Corinna! Alas for death! Alas for the tomb!'" The picture of sadness that Alessandrini conjures here, with human emotions meeting shifting winds and seas, is overwhelmingly powerful, and there are many other moments on the disc that are just as strong. Alessandrini keeps the focus on the singers, with an unobtrusive accompaniment by theorbo and harp, or by harpsichord in the "concertato" madrigals that feature more dramatic characterization. If there is any complaint here it is that these newer-style pieces, with their solo, duo, and trio sections, aren't sufficiently differentiated in their performance style from the other works, which Alessandrini identifies as exploring "for the last time, and almost exhaustively, the possibilities of a cappella polyphony." Such works as the partially dramatic Misero Alceo, track 16, are beautifully sung but don't stand out from the group-vocal pieces like they should; Monteverdi was a composer who thought in terms of contrasting "practices." In the primary task of bringing out Monteverdi's effort to squeeze every bit of possible impact out of his texts, however, Alessandrini generally succeeds brilliantly. The quiet, up-close recording in Rome's Farnese Palace is highly appropriate for the music's very intimate qualities.
Lamento D'Arianna, Lyrics by Ottavio Rinucchini  
1   Lasciatemi Morire  2:11
2   O Teseo, O Teseo Mio  5:55
3   Dove, Dov'è La Fede  3:06
4   Ahi, Che Pur Non Risponde  4:06
5   Zefiro Torna E'l Bel Tempo Rimena, Lyrics by Francesco Petrarca 3:40
6   Una Donna Fra L'altre, Lyrics by Anonymous 3:48
7   A Dio, Florida Bella, Lyrics by Giambattista Marino 4:27
Sestina (Lagrime D'Amante Al Sepolcro Dell'Amata), Lyrics by Scipione Agnelli
8   Incenerite Spoglie  2:26
9   Ditelo  2:07
10   Darà La Notte Il Sol  2:39
11   Ma Te Raccoglie - 3:10
12   O Chiome D'or  2:58
13   Dunque, Amate Reliquie  3:52
14   Ohimè Il Bel Viso, Lyrics by Francesco Petrarca 5:17
15   Qui Rise, O Tirsi, Lyrics by Giambattista Marino 6:38
16   Misero Aleceo, Lyrics by Giambattista Marino 5:15
17   Batto, Qui Pianse Ergasto, Lyrics by Giambattista Marino 4:00
18   Presso Un Fiume Tranquillo, Lyrics by Giambattista Marino 5:22

Composer Info

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

CD Info

Naive CD OP 30580, Opus 111 CD OPS 30-166, Naive CD OP 30423