Andrew Clements writes .....
After discs devoted to the madrigals that Monteverdi wrote in Cremona and Mantua, the final part of Les Arts Florissants’ anthology includes pieces from the Seventh and Eighth books. Published in Venice in 1619 and 1638 respectively, they were the last such collections to appear in the composer’s lifetime, and the 51 numbers (29 in book seven, 22 in book eight) include some of Monteverdi’s greatest music.
Selecting a single disc of music from such a rich treasury is a real challenge, and director Paul Agnew has mixed familiar pieces such as Lamento della Ninfa and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (both from book eight) with less familiar, smaller-scale settings, from the relatively traditional Allume delle Stelle (book seven) to the vivid contrasts of Altri Canti d’Amor (book eight). But then, the Arts Flo series never set out to be comprehensive; it’s more a celebration of the joyous range and variety of Monteverdi’s madrigals as they evolved over six decades.
The recordings come from concerts in Paris in 2014 and 2015, and in theatrical settings like Combattimento, the live occasion does give the performance an extra edge of vividness. Elsewhere some might miss the earthy, sensuous quality that Italian groups such as La Venexiana, savouring every syllable, bring to this repertoire. But the typical refinement of Les Arts Florissants and the scrupulous way voices and instruments complement each other are a treat in themselves.