"Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi
" ("Madrigals Warlike and Amorous") is how Claudio Monteverdi
titled his eighth and largest book of madrigals--which was actually two volumes in one. The "warlike madrigals" (concerned largely with the "war of love") feature the "agitated style" Monteverdi pioneered: quick, almost nervous writing, lots of rapidly repeated notes, and more syllables than a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. These works culminate in the famous short quasi-opera Il Combattimento de Tancredi e Clorinda
. The "amorous madrigals" are no less ardent, but they are less, well, warlike--that is, more leisurely paced, with plenty of chromaticism, dissonant suspensions, and giddily virtuosic runs to depict the pain and excitement of love.
Anthony Rooley, Emma Kirkby, and the Consort of Musicke made these recordings in the early 1990s. While the performances were widely admired in their day, they're now universally considered (at least by those of us who actually spend time thinking about such things) to have been superseded by the remarkable work of Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano. It's true that some of the singing on the Consort's first disc is lackluster, but things perk right up with the young Paul Agnew's solo in Volgendo il ciel followed by an energetic Combattimento. Everyone's back in fine form for the "amorous" madrigals on the second disc; particularly notable are the virtuoso turns for Agnew, Andrew King, and Alan Ewing, as well as the Divine Miss Emma. Yes, Concerto Italiano is preferable if you can afford both of the full-price discs, but at the bargain price Virgin is charging for these reissues, you'll get more than your money's worth. --Matthew Westphal