A Brilliantly Entertaining Way to Begin the 2017 Proms Chamber Music Series


United KingdomUnited Kingdom 2017 BBC PCM 1 – Monteverdi, R. Williams: I Fagiolini / Robert Hollingworth (organ/director). Cadogan Hall, London, 17.7.2017. (CC)

PCM 1_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_3
Roderick Williams and I Fagiolini with Robert Hollingworth (director)
after Là ci darem la mano at Cadogan Hall

Monteverdi –  Cruda Amarilli. Sfogava con le stele. Longe a te, cor mio. Orfeo (1607): Possente spirto. Chiome d’oro. Vorrei baciarti, o Filli; Laudate pueri Dominum. Volgendo il ciel per l’immortal sentiero (Ballo)

R.Williams – Là ci darem la mano (2017)

And so to the first of eight Proms Chamber Music concerts. The fresh cleanliness of Cadogan Hall was the perfect setting for the achingly clean performances by I Fagiolini. Two anniversaries here: Robert Hollingworth’s ensemble is 21 this year while we also celebrate the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth by including examples of all genres Monteverdi wrote in. The almost capacity audience acted as testament to the success of these adjunct events.

The first three pieces were written when Monteverdi was living and working in Mantua. The purity of the five-voice Cruda Amarilli was enhanced by the perfect sense of balance between the singers. The fragmentation techniques used by Monteverdi in the final phrase, ‘I’ mi morrò tacendo’ (In silence shall I die) emerged as remarkably modern. Shaping of pieces was simply sublime, one prime example being the blossoming out at ‘O immagini belle/De l’idol mio ch’adoro,’ while the blissful restraint of Longe a te, cor mio with its sublime counterpoint towards the end transported us far, far away from Sloane Square and its environs.

Tenor Matthew Long was the soloist in the ‘first surviving opera’, L’Orfeo of 1607. A pair of cornets stood at the side of the stage, almost pointing away from the audience; the strings were gloriously even, the two violins of Rachel Podger and Kati Devretzeni providing a commentary on Long’s long and wandering lines; when the cornetts took over this function, the effect was magical.

From 1613 and Venice comes the brief Chiome d’oro with its utterly delightful dialogues between a pair of violins (Podger and Devrentzeni again) against a pair of sopranos (Anna Crookes and Ciara Hendrick). Hendrick and Robert Hollingworth were the charming lovers in Vorrei baciarti, o Filli (I should like to kiss you, O Phyllis), the slow, sighing phrases leaving us in no doubt about the oceans of longing onstage.

And so to that ‘R. Williams’. Not a mis-spelling of Ralph (Vaughan) Williams but the familiar face of baritone-turned-composer Roderick Williams, once a member of I Fagiolini. A quick interview onstage with Williams revealed that it was as Williams was singing Mozart’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’ (from Don Giovanni) that he realised it would make a fabulous madrigal text, stating he was glad he wasn’t singing his own version due to the difficulty. It is not just the Mozart text that gets used: Hollingworth at one point read out one of Monteverdi’s letters (in English). Antiphonal placement of singers is used to good effect; a terrific piece performed with all the verve and humour it deserved. More, please.

Back to Monteverdi for music for church and dancing. The first category was represented by Monteverdi’s 1641 setting of Psalm 112, Laudate pueri Dominum a 5, which from the title most readers I am sure will guess is not the one for dancing. Yet it holds buoyancy in its rhythms, and it flowed beautifully. Finally, Volgendo il ciel per l’immortal sentiero, composed for Ferdinand II. The light, focused tenor of Nicholas Hurndall Smith worked beautifully against the light instrumental violins with continuo. The piece included a ‘dance’ (inverted commas because no-one really did); the performance was full of verve and exuberance, though, nowhere more so than in the active final verse.

A brilliant, and brilliantly entertaining way to begin the Proms Chamber Music Series.

Colin Clarke

For more about the 2017 BBC Proms click here.

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