Monteverdi: Madrigals Book 9

Monteverdi Madrigals book 9 Longhini CD cover

Scherzi Musicali
Delitiæ Musicæ, Marco Longhini
Naxos 8.555318

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As Marco Longhini reaches the last of Monteverdi’s Madrigal Books, the posthumously published 9th Book, I find I still have many of the same reservations that I had at the start of the series. The use of an all-male ensemble entails the group’s countertenors being cast as a range of lovelorn maidens, nymphs and shepherdesses, and for all the gusto with which they throw themselves into these roles, I remain unconvinced, particularly as there is no evidence that there was any sort of restriction on women singing this music. I’m afraid I am also less than convinced by Longhini’s countertenors themselves, who in contrast to the other male voices never seem entirely comfortable vocally. I remain similarly unconvinced by the prominent participation of harpsichord in the accompanying textures – often a madrigal is beautifully introduced by a continuo ensemble comprising various plucked instruments and cello only for a harpsichord to muscle in on the texture. Having voiced my main reservations, Longhini’s instinct for the potential drama in this music has not diminished during the project, and if it could occasionally be accused of being a little over-theatrical, it is certainly never dull. The singing is generally good, with only occasional intonation lapses, and is musically pretty convincing and delicately ornamented. The madrigal performances are introduced by a lovely instrumental Sinfonia by Biagio Marini, and the balance of the CD is made up of the Monteverdi’s Scherzi Musicali, a collection of ariettas published in 1632 and of which only a single copy survives. Interestingly, Longhini makes plausible use of a number of instrumental ritornelli which appear in the original publication, and which are normally ignored by performers, to link in conclusion a selection of the ariettas together. I found myself wondering how much the oddly immediate acoustic was to blame for my discomfort with some of the singing – although the recording was made in the Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincola, there is little hint of any bloom in the performance. This ‘in-your-face’ ambience is emphasised by the opening madrigal, in which the countertenor soloist emerges from a resonant distance abruptly to jump out of your speakers at you! Certainly theatrical, but oddly unsettling. I wanted to enjoy this CD more, and can only hope that some listeners derive more consistent pleasure than I did from what is clearly an important complete account of the Monteverdi Madrigals.

D. James Ross