The sheer love that emanates from I Fagiolini for Monteverdi made this compelling viewing

United KingdomUnited Kingdom VOCES8 Live from London: Monteverdi – The Ache of Love: I Fagiolini / Robert Hollingworth (director). VOCES8 Centre. A Live from London stream and performed at the VOCES8 Centre, 8.8.2020. (CC)

I Fagiolini (c) Libby Percival

This concert, the second in the Live in London series (click here), was preceded by Robert Hollingworth in interview with Tim Vaughan, taken at a melting 36°C in the City of London. But the way it laid the foundations of this Monteverdi concert was everything one could have wanted: the importance of tuning for the chords to speak; the use of a ‘pyramid of sound’, (building the sound up from the bottom). I Fagiolini is a flexible group – it has taken on collaborations with actors and acrobats, for example.

Choosing one composer, and madrigals from a relatively short period of time, 1592-1620, allows for an appreciation of the depth and variety of music Monteverdi affords. Italian madrigals can be modernist and difficult, mentally and vocally virtuoso and challenging. I Fagiolini does use a women’s voices at the top; underneath that is a light ‘baritenor’ and around that a bass and alto voice (a light high tenor).

The same film from the first concert, that introduced the VOCES8 Centre, precedes the music. We start with ‘Svogano con le stelle’, in which singer looks up, sick with love and sees two stars that remind him of his lover’s eyes; but they cannot see him. After all that introduction, the blossoming of sound is such a relief. The blended, beautiful sound of I Fagiolini is perfect for this repertoire; and interestingly enough this very piece had featured in the very first Proms Chamber Music concert of 2017, given by this group  (review click here).

‘Duo seraphim’ from the 1610 Vespers was second piece (with organ and bemasked theorbist), lachrymose, the chords laden with meaning.

The year 1619 brought a book of duets written in Venice, and we were treated to ‘Vorrei bacarti’; in contrast to surrounding flowerings of polyphony, here we have simply two voices reacting and meeting on exquisite unison. Somehow the social distancing of two singers at extremes of the monitor screen communicating across a void seemed to add to the poignant music.

‘Feli amaro’ (which used to be ‘Cruda amarili’, again performed in that PCM concert) with its gorgeous chordal progressions, preceded ‘Adorame te Christe’, classic Monteverdi sacred music, the choral sound underpinned by organ and garlanded by theorbo. I Fagiolini’s understanding of the harmonic language is beyond compare, surely; a hyper-sensitivity to the meaning of sound combinations that elevates the experience exponentially.

The duet ‘Zefiro torna’, with its hypnotic repeating bassline, topical as it talks about the return of the West wind (given the heat in London on that day). A lovely bit of comedy as the two gentlemen performers were ‘captured’ playing with their phones as that springy, catchy bassline launched the piece. Surely one of Monteverdi’s most famous pieces, this was a tremendous performance, the music’s ‘turn’ inwards a moment of maximal impact (not to mention that later incredible harmonic progression that comes out of nowhere)

Contemporary with Orfeo (1607), text by Petrarch about his beloved Laura (possibly written shortly after she dies), ‘Piovonmi amare lagrime del viso’ is a piece of great beauty. ‘Lamento della ninfa’, from the late madrigals of love, is again constructed on a repeating four-note motif and includes an aggregation of dissonance that seems way ahead of its time in a description of the pain of love. The performances throughout were pretty much faultless, but it is the sheer love that emanates from the singers for the music that makes this compelling. The odd London emergency siren in the background (and a bird), just added to the sense of live performance, something almost all of us surely miss viscerally.

An encore, ‘Si dolce tormento’ sung by Matthew Long with Hollingworth on organ, the perfect close.

A bonus was Not in this together: three films for socially distanced musicians by Robert Hollingworth. Terrific fun, and beautiful, too, a comedic examination of the challenges of droppings out on Zoom, of pixilation and of buffering, followed by a final beanbag session facilitated by Barnaby Smith from VOCES8. Incidentally, I Fagiolini’s series on YouTube, with the hashtag SingTheScore, is also well worth investigating.

Next in the series is the Academy of Ancient Music on August 15.

Colin Clarke

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