Monteverdi: La dolce vita

Dorothee Mields, Lautten Compagney, Wolfgang Katschner
78:40
deutsche harmonia mundi 88985491572

It is difficult to know quite who this weird and not-at-all-wonderful CD is aimed at. Almost certainly not the kind of listener who takes the trouble to visit EMR’s site. Admirers of the singer, maybe? Well, certainly Dorothee Mields is a justly admired soprano with a voice of pure, yet rounded quality and a fine technique that allows her to sing long legato lines with reassuringly secure pitch. Here there are odd moments, particularly in the Lamento d’Arianna, where her singing can be admired without too much reservation. But in general, given that she shows only moderate understanding of the stylistic requirements of the music and her Italian diction is poor, she can be heard to much better effect elsewhere.

The programme itself is an extraordinary mishmash, romping across music culled from the madrigal books, the 1610 Vespers and other sacred collections and not excluding a nod in the direction of opera with part of the duet ‘Sento un certo non so che’ from L’Incoronazione di Poppea. A part of? Oh, yes indeed. And the fact that it is a duet and there is only one singer? No problem. Just run Valetto’s opening stanza without a break into the response of Damigella (not that you’ll know until you read the booklet notes). Then stop. This cavalier approach to the music is the major hallmark of the entire CD. A capella madrigals for five voices? Once again, no problem. Just fill in the missing vocal lines with instruments, changing the orchestration every few bars to make sure listeners don’t get bored. A ground bass, as in Lamento della Ninfa? Ah, that’ll sound better with a nice bit of clickitty-clacketty percussion added. As for those boring men who commiserate with the Nymph? Oh, let’s just forget them; no one will notice. And so on.

The most curious thing about the project is the desperately old-fashioned feel it has. It smacks of the kind of thing people used to do to unknown Baroque composers in the early years of the 20th century. Well, we’ve moved on a hundred years. Monteverdi’s music now lies at the heart of standard early music repertoire, leaving this horribly misbegotten and musically sterile conception no place for anyone but the most undemanding of the singer’s admirers.

Brian Robins

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