Les Talens Lyriques: Zefiro Torna

Zefiro Torna
Les Talens Lyriques
St John’s, Smith Square. 7 June 2017

This concert celebrated the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, as well as the 25th anniversary of Les Talens Lyriques. Tenors Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Anders J. Dahlin joined with director and keyboard player Christophe Rousset, cellist Emmanuel Jacques, and violinists Gilone Gaubert-Jacques and Josépha Jégard to explore Monteverdi’s more intimate, but nonetheless dramatic music. Each half concluded with opera extracts, but started with extracts from four of Monteverdi’s madrigal books. Throughout these madrigals, we had to work around the curious implications of two men both singing about the same love interest.

They opened with two extracts from the 1619 Settimo libro de madrigali, both reflections on a lover, the second O come sei gentile comparing the beloved to a little bird. The generally simple style was contrasted with the more tortured aspects of love, with two pieces from the 1638 Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, libro ottavo. This enabled the two singers to reveal the more intense side to their voices, noticeably with the sobbing sounds at the end of O sia tranquillo il mare and the agitated drama of the opening of Ardo e scoprir. 

These two madrigals were sandwiched between two instrumental pieces, Castello’s Sonata 2 from the 1621 Primo Libro de Sonate Concertante in Stilo Moderno, with its distinctive stylus phantasticus contrasting of different sections and the distinctive Castello concluding trillo. The music in Monteverdi’s own Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi was influenced by these dramatic sonatas. The Sonata settima by Giovanni Battista Fontana, published in 1641 after his death, reflected the move towards a new instrumental style. Both were played with real conviction by violinists Gilone Gauber-Jacques and Josépha Jégard.

The second half opened with Mentre vaga Angioletta, another madrigal from Madrigali guerrieri et amoroso, opening with the solo voice of Emiliano Gonzalez Toro before the second voice and accompanying instruments were added. The clarity of articulation and stability of vocal timbre of both singers was particularly evident in this piece. They both demonstrated their ability to express the text came to the fore in Zefiro tornafrom the 1651 Madrigali e canzonette, libro nono. The concluding hor piango, hor canto (now weep, now sing) was magical.

The opera extracts that concluded each half came from Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea (1640/42), both allowing the singers to break into opera mode. The first extract was the touching scene when Odysseus reveals is identity to his son Telemachus, followed in complete contrast by the wonderful comedy scene with Iro, with Emiliano Gonzalez Toro hamming it up with gusto. The closing scenes from Poppea were the opening duet between the two soldiers, and the later post-Seneca death singing contest, here shorn of the homoerotic overtones that opera directors are want to overlay.

This was an excellent concert, revealing aspects of Monteverdi’s music with outstanding singing from Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Anders J. Dahlin. The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and can be heard for a few weeks here.


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