MONTEVERDI: Combattimento

Her dramatic bent is well in tow in this anthology of vocal chamber music from Monteverdiís seventh and eighth book of madrigals, the Scherzi Musicali and assorted anthologies from the 1620ís and 1630ís. The eponymous work on the recording, the ìCombattimento di Tancredi e Clorindaî is imposing in its length and operatic theatricality and the most impressive performance on the recording. A treatment of a scene from Tassoís Gerusalemme liberata in which Christian hero (Tancredi) fights and slays his Saracen beloved (Clorinda), who is traveling incognita in the armor of a male warrior, the work gives ample room for Monteverdi to display both his innovative stile concitato (agitated style), bringing the sounds of battle to life through rapidly articulated tremolos, and his sensitive touch in the dying words of Clorinda. The narrator, Mexican tenor Rolando VillazÛn, is stunningly dramatic with an Orfeo-like expressive range and responsiveness that both touches and invigorates. And Patrizia Ciofiís rendition of Clorindaís last words are movingly poignant and sublime.
In some pieces, however, the intense dramatic singing characteristic of the
Combattimento serves less well. The airs ìSi dolce Ë ël tormento,î ìPerchË se míodiavi,î and ìMaledetto sia líaspettoî seem overwhelmed by singing that is too vibrant, too inflected, and too intense, where a simpler naturalness might have served the melodic airiness better. Admittedly, the texts are poems of cruel love, and there is much that might invite the dramatic touch, but at the same time, too much drama can rob a beautiful melody of its tuneful grace. This seems to be the case here. And the tenor duet, ìTornate, o cari baci,î has a vibrancy that rather hints of nineteenth-century sound ideals, an echo perhaps of VillazÛnís mainstream opera career. Where high drama and intensity of expression are wanted, the two tenors have a great deal to offer. However, with simpler, more tuneful pieces, a less vocally and dramatically encumbered approach would be more compelling.
The instrumental playing is superb. The concitato passage work is thrillingly energized, while elsewhere the characteristicly wafting lilt of sculpted phrases invites one into a richness of sound that is unflaggingly captivating (as in the opening sinfonia of ìTempro la cetra.î Additionally, the opening sinfonia to ìSi dolce Ë ël tormentoî is a wonderful display of plucked string sound that, too, has unyielding allure. HaÔm deploys her diverse forces schematically in a way that well serves the unfolding of the text, an operatic instinct perhaps, and one that is a particularly rich aspect of the recording.
Steven Plank

image_description=Claudio Monteverdi: Combattimento
product_title=Claudio Monteverdi: Combattimento
product_by=Le Concert díAstrÈe; Emmanuelle HaÔm, Director. Rolando VillazÛn and Topi Lehtipuu, tenors; Patrizia Ciofi, soprano.
product_id=Virgin Classics 0946 3 63350 [CD]