Antonio Bertali: La Maddalena

Antonio Bertali: La Maddalena
Scherzi Musicali, Nicolas Achten
Ricercar RIC367. 67’42

Monteverdi, Guivizzani, Effrem, Rossi: Music composed for La Maddalena, a sacred drama by Gio. Battista Andreini; Bertali: La Maddalena; Mazzocchi: Lagrime Amare

Bertali: La MaddalenaThe music of Antonio Bertali deserves to be much better known, and this important recording demonstrates why. His oratorio La Maddalena was composed in Vienna in 1663. It is richly scored for six solo singers, a six-part viol consort, two cornetts, a violin and trombone plus continuo, here drawn from lirone, violone, theorbo, archlute, guitar, chitarrones, tiorbino, harp, and a variety of keyboard instruments.

Its three parts start with a dialogue between Pentimento and Amor verso Dio (Repentance and Love for God), sung by a low bass and high tenor respectively, and reflecting on the death of Christ. The sombre mood is lifted somewhat in the second part, when the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene contemplate their position, their moods changing dramatically from lamentation to some indications of hope for the future. The final part features two sinners (Peccatore), who meet up with Maria and Maddalena to compare notes. The rich orchestration of cornets and trombone is contrasted with the viols and violin.

The recording opens with an unusual set of pieces by different composers written for an earlier sacred drama La Maddalena, performed in Mantua in 1617. Monteverdi’s opening Prologo: Su le penne de’ vente is the musical highlight, with Divine Favour disguised as Cupid. Similar in style to La Musica’s prologue in Orfeo, this is Monteverdi at his best. Shorter pieces by Guivizzani, Effrem, and Rossi follow, all in a similar dramatic style. An instrumental sonata by Bertali provides a link to his La Maddalena.

The singing of the six soloists is excellent, with some very effective additional ornaments and elaborations. The choice of continuo instruments is not usually clear in manuscripts of this period, so the director has many decisions to make, all sound on this occasion. My only quibble is with some occasionally very busy harpsichord continuo playing, adding a distractingly percussive layer of demisemiquavers beneath a relatively slow moving upper texture. There are several delightful little interludes, for example, from the plucked instruments towards the end of Monteverdi’s opening Prologue.

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