La Venexiana / Claudio Cavina / Emanuela Galli

Monteverdi: Scherzi Musicali

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The title of the ensemble La Venexiana's ninth installment in its Monteverdi series Scherzi Musicali 1732 on the Glossa label, is somewhat misleading. Only about half of the selections come from the composer's 1732 collection, Scherzi Musicali, and only the solo works are included, so two of the Scherzi, for multiple voices, are missing. This is nonetheless a delightful CD that should be of strong interest to fans of the composer and early Baroque vocal music, and also advocates of lively (and daring) period performance practice. Conductor Claudio Cavina conceived of the album as a selection of light, playful music, so the general term "scherzi musicali" is an appropriate description. Several of the solo madrigals are in fact so spirited that it would be easy to imagine that they were modern pieces. Ohimè chi'io cado begins with a snappy walking bass that wouldn't be out of place in a jazz ensemble, and its vocal line could be mistaken for a torch song, which is just how soprano Emanuela Galli delivers it, as could the soulful Sì dolc'è il tormento, with its bent tones and a bluesy trumpet improvisation. The transparent emotion with which Galli sings and with which Cavina accompanies her is contemporary in its directness. Even the madrigals that are given a more "straight" performance have an emotional honesty that's appealingly communicative. Galli's voice is wonderfully pure, focused, and unmannered, and she brings irrepressible vibrancy to pieces that look very plain on the page. Part of her success is her impressive use of sprezzatura, the conversational rhythmic looseness that Monteverdi encouraged singers to apply to his music. The accompaniment of La Venexiana is likewise supple, as well as colorful and varied. The sound is immediate and present, with a nice, open ambience. Highly recommended.

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