I Fagiolini

Montiverdi: Sweet Torment

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Robert Hollingsworth achieves with mixed results leading I Fagiolini, the vocal and instrumental ensemble he founded, and Norwegian instrumental group Barokksolistene in a selection of Monteverdi madrigals spanning a large segment of the composer's career. Part of the inconsistency is due to the varying levels of vocal sophistication of members of I Fagiolini. Most of the singers are accomplished, with solid instruments and secure technique, but several have modest instruments and are far outside their comfort zone in negotiating the coloratura demands of some of the vocal lines. A second problem is Hollingsworth's editorial judgment in places where Monteverdi's notation is ambiguous enough to require the performer to make significant interpretive decisions, such as exactly what note should be played. Both these weaknesses are most evident in the tenor duet Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti. Nicholas Mulroy and Nicholas Hurndall Smith are out of their depth in the florid writing, much of which is rendered with a vague approximation of the pitches. Smith's voice has an earthy, rough-hewn quality that would be appropriate for some repertoire, but is out of place in this suavely elegant madrigal. It's a piece where the composer's (or engraver's) imprecision and lack of consistency require decisive editorial oversight, and Hollingsworth's choices (such as omitting accidentals on notes that would seem to need them but don't have them notated) often just sound bad. That in itself isn't reason enough to object to a choice -- there are plenty of places where a composer's intent is to create a startling dissonance -- but there is no consistency in Hollingsworth's decisions. Sometimes he adds an accidental, sometimes he doesn't, without any apparent logic derived from either the text or the musical structure. The result is that some notes sound out of tune and some sound like bloopers, making the listener hit the rewind button asking, "Did I really hear that?" Performances of most of other works are entirely pleasant, but lack the exceptional vocalism or interpretive flair to make them stand out in the company of the truly extraordinary Monteverdi recordings that are proliferating. The sound is clean and present, but listeners looking for performances of this repertoire could easily do better with recordings by ensembles like La Venexiana, L'Arpeggiata, Tragicomedia, Concerto Italiano, and Delitiæ Musicæ.

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