At regular intervals (30:6; 32:1), Robert Hollingworth offers a well-filled disc programming a selection of Monteverdi's madrigals. His intellectual approach is rewarding beyond the usual presentation of complete published books, for he finds relations between the pieces that can only be brought out by astute selection. No one has ever linked the two settings of Zefiro torna on record, the one a Petrarch poem that Monteverdi included in Book 5, the other poem Rinuccini's homage to his renowned predecessor that was published in Monteverdi's setting in 1632. Except for this juxtaposition, these madrigals from Books 5 to 8 are sung in chronological order, but only after Hollingworth decided that this made better sense than his original conception. This places at the end a half-hour work that was published in 1638, although it was first performed (at the Gonzaga/Savoy wedding) 20 years earlier. Here Hollingworth chooses to edit the published version of Ballo delle ingrate to match the unrevised text that Rinuccini originally published (its references to the Mantua wedding were obliterated for a publication dedicated to the emperor). Hollingworth also points out that most performances of some of these madrigals fill in the continuo with harmonies matching the vocal lines. Hollingworth compares this to a woman in a print dress standing in a flower garden. Instead, he employs a chordal harmony that howls against the dissonant upper voices. This gives his interpretations a unique appeal, a worthy alternative to other versions.
Clearly, Hollingworth's programs are complementary to any collection of recorded complete books, whether the various ensembles that have recorded them are mixed or matched. His usual ensemble is augmented by a Norwegian string quintet. To be sure, this is an English approach to Monteverdi, in contrast to a group such as La Venexiana, but we have been making this comparison for many years now (recall the Consort of Musicke), and we can hear complementary qualities. Hollingworth brings a unique perspective to Monteverdi. -- Fanfare, J. F. Weber, Nov/Dec 2009