With the release of Monteverdi's Fifth Book of Madrigals, La Venexiana, the extraordinary ensemble founded and led by countertenor Claudio Cavina, comes close to completing its cycle of Monteverdi's nine volumes for Glossa, with only the first and last books left to record. The Fifth Book, published just before Monteverdi wrote Orfeo, is a pivotal collection that incorporates conventions both of Renaissance madrigals and of the emerging Baroque. La Venexiana's performance is notable for its musical and emotional intensity. The singers' remarkably pure and focused tone is piercing in its clarity, and their expressive directness fully captures the extreme affects of the text. Nothing in the performance is static; every sustained note is purposefully and lovingly contoured, and the phrasing has the rhythmic fluidity that Monteverdi considered essential to effective performance of his vocal music. Even a warhorse like "Cruda Amarilli" sounds fresh and newly imagined. Each of the singers has a voice of solo quality -- beautiful, warm, and shapely -- and their choral blend is ravishing. The second half of the collection has continuo accompaniment, and the somewhat eccentric combination of harp and harpsichord offers a pleasing alternative to the standard keyboard with gamba or cello. Glossa's sound is remarkably intimate and present; being able to hear the singers' intake of breath only adds to the immediacy of the performance.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins