Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Monteverdi Madrigals with Magnificat

An unusually beautiful and accomplished concert of madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi was performed on Sunday at St. Luke's Lutheran Church by Magnificat, a Bay Area ensemble under cellist/artistic director Warren Stewart (above center) that specializes in 17th century music. I had never heard them before, but the group has been around for over two decades, and if this concert was any indication, the loss was mine.

After an opening "madrigale morale" called O ciechi, ciechi about the the vanity of pursuing land and treasures while paying no attention to your soul, soprano Christine Brandes sang a long love letter song, Se i languidi miei sguardi. Brandes was in great voice and dramatically intense, making one almost understand the 17th century Italian without consulting the program. The continuo accompaniment by harpsichordist/organist Jillon Stoppels Dupree above was understated and compelling all afternoon.

There were a pair of instrumental pieces by Monteverdi's contemporaries, the Sonata Decimaquinta by Dario Costello and the Sonato in Eco per tre violini by Biago Marini, where the bearded Rob Diggins above played a solo sonata that was echoed from hidden locations by other violinists in the back of the church. The effect was magical. (Pictured above are David Wilson, Rob Diggins, and Jolianne Einem.)

The first half of the program ended with the proto-opera, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, where tenor Aaron Sheehan did a spectacular job narrating the sad story of Tancredi and Clorinda fighting and killing each other during the Crusades. Long ago I owned a recording by the English early music specialist Raymond Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra of this piece, but Leppard orchestrated the madrigal with brass and extra strings. Though the sound was entertaining, Monteverdi's music stripped down to its essentials as it was meant to be performed is more dramatically engaging, as this performance and West Edge Opera's recent production of Il Ritorno di Ulisse demonstrated.

The second half was filled with more treasures, including a sublime soprano duet between Brandes and soprano Jennifer Paulino, Ohime dov'e mil ben.

There was also a hilarious parody of a War Madrigal where the enemy is Love and the soldiers completely unequipped to claim victory against this insidious foe which turns their lives upside down. Throughout the entire afternoon, the vocal mixture between the five vocalists (two sopranos, one tenor, one countertenor, and one bass) was extraordinarily smooth and rich. Pictured above are the vanquished by Love soldiers: tenor Andrew Sheehan, countertenor Andrew Rader, and bass Robert Stafford. The finale was Ballo: Tirse e Clori, a pastoral duet between Paulino and Sheehan, which turned into a choral ballet for the entire ensemble. It was exquisite and fun.


Stephen Smoliar said...

During my senior year at MIT, Luciano Berio was a visiting professor at Harvard. He presented Combattimento. As I recall, he kept Monteverdi's instrumentation; but he decided to stage the piece. The set was a boxing ring (just like Mahagonny Singspiel! It was my first real exposure to Monteverdi, and it still sticks with me.

Civic Center said...

Dear Stephen: That's a pretty great Monteverdi/Berio story.