Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale

Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Barbican, 9 December 2017

Monteverdi’s 8th book of madrigals, the Selva morale e spirituale (Moral and Spiritual Forest”), was published in 1641 when Monteverdi was in his 70s. It seems to have been intended as a culmination of his musical career at St Marks Venice, and contains a vast array of compositional styles, as reflected in this Barbican concert by the eight singers and eight instrumentalists of Les Arts Florissants. They opened with one of the most dramatic pieces from the collection, the extended seven-voice Gloria, the clear articulation of the singers allowing the flourishes of the musical lines to shine. Here, as in many of the other pieces, the two violinists made significant contributions.

The moral followed the spiritual with Chi vol m’innamori, the three verses ending with ‘today . . . tomorrow’ refrains – laugh/weep; light/darkness; born/die, all set to surprisingly jolly music in the distinctive syncopated dance rhythm. A nice link stopped the audience applauding link before the even bleaker madrigal O ciechi, il tanto affaticar that should have made his wealthy patrons think. Key moments came with two soprano solo moments, Emmanuelle de Negri excelling in the Pianto della Madonna a voce sola sopra il Lamento d’Arianna (the words of Arianna’s lament altered to focus on Mary) and Lucia Martin-Carton’s solo moments in Confitebor terzo.

After more intimate settings, they finished with the glorious Beatus primo a 6 voci concertato con 2 violini, the two sopranos again on top form. Alexandra Coghlan’s intelligent programme notes added much to the understanding of Monteverdi’s musical approach to the texts and was, helpful, written in the order of the pieces.

[An early version of this review swapped the names of the two soprano soloists – now corrected]

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