A Rewarding Recital of Venetian Music

22/05/2018

Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, Kapsberger: Sara Mingardo, Francesca Biliotti (contraltos), Giovanni Bellini (theorbo), Giorgio Dal Monte (harpsichord), Wigmore Hall, London 21.5.2018. (CC)

Monteverdi – Ohimè, dov’è il mio bene?; Con cha soavità, labra adorate; Vorrei baciarti; Voglio di vita iscir; Non è di gentil core; Zefira torna

Frescobaldi -Toccata Nona (for harpsichord)

Kapsberger –  Canzone Prima (for theorbo)

Seventeenth-century Venice was the stage for this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert from the Wigmore. His Seventh Book of Madrigals, from which most of his pieces on this programme were taken, marked his arrival in Venice (his previous book, published in 1614, hailed from his Mantuan years; the Seventh Book appeared in 1619). Both Kapsberger and Frescobaldi were based in Venice at this time, and their works formed the inserted solo numbers.

The combination of teacher and pupil, Sara Mingardo and Francesca Biliotti, proved a winning one. The duet, ‘Ohimè, dov’è il mio bene?’ (Alas, where is my love?) found them in beautiful resonance, Mingardo’s higher reaches particularly pure and, perhaps, the subtler of the two singers; Mingardo shone, too, in the lament ‘Con cha soavità, labra adorate’ (What gentle care, fragrant lips), with its very well sustained long lines. Here, Mingardo displayed perfect vocal control, superbly accompanied by harpsichordist Giorgio dal Monte, whose account of Frescobaldi’s Toccata nona was little short of remarkable; quasi-improvised yet with a perfect sense of unfolding.

Mingardo and Biliotti combined once more in ‘Vorrei bacciarti’ (I want to kiss you), a radiant exploration of sensuality, the arrival on ‘bocca’ (lips) a moment to savour. Mingardo alone shone in ‘Voglio di vita uscir,’ (I want to leave this life behind) with its florid melismas; a marked change in texture at ‘S’apre la tomba’ (The tomb is open), where the texture thins to voice and theorbo only, made full effect. The duet ‘Non è di gentil core’ (Anyone who does not burn with love) with its breathless imitations confirmed once more the congruence of Mingardo and Biliotti’s voices before the tender duet, ‘O come sei gentile’ (Oh, how precious you are’).

The inclusion of some Kapsberger, for theorbo solo, was the perfect complement to the Monteverdi, intimate and expressive in this performance by Giovanni Bellini. Finally, arguably the most famous of the madrigals of the concert, ‘Zefiro torna’ (Return, sweet breezes) from Scherzi musicali, was beautifully done, as fresh as if it had been composed yesterday, the dialogue between voices a continual delight. The performance lasted an hour almost to the minute; no encore, perhaps surprisingly given the enthusiasm of the audience reception.

Colin Clarke

Readers with access to the BBC iPlayer can listen to the concert here for up to 30 days from the date of transmission.

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