Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nadia Boulanger conducts Monteverdi

   In final decades of 16th century master composers looked compelled by polyphonic techniques of renaissance music. The more and more composers were breaking rules in the search of strengthened artistic effect. The form of madrigal was perfect soil for experiments and many of great Italian masters were trying to find the best solution of dilemma between perfect polyphony and the need of emotional interaction with poetry. One of most consequent was Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), who was as much famous as distinct. In his compositions he was linking different, even contradicting ideas. In transitional era between renaissance and baroque styles such practice was even not so rare, as one can see in famous example of an eccentric music by Carlo Gesualdo. Seven years older than Monteverdi, Gesualdo broaden harmonic meanings, but didn’t found efficient way to break the idea of polyphonic he was educated. And this is why he is considered to be still in renaissance style. 
   Claudio Monteverdi, one of greatest composers in music history, started with accepted style and evolutionary changed the era. His achievements in the field of new form of opera are considerably known and appreciated. But space to experiment was madrigal, the most popular genre of chamber music in late renaissance. During his lifetime Monteverdi published eight books of madrigals. This cycle shows the way of developing monadic style out of Renaissance polyphonic style. The 5th Book of Madrigals shows the transition to baroque style. It was forwarded by preface taking position in the debate on music esthetic issues. Controversy was about the division between old, renaissance polyphonic style with dissonance limitations and equal voices, called by composer prima pratica and new, emotional, freely flowing monadic style based on rhetoric and structural meanings called seconda pratica.
   Monteverdi was sure of what he had done. His stile concitato (agitated style) using rhetoric means was developed in last three decades of his life and published 8 years after his death as Madrigali e canzonette a due e tre voci. It’s occurs to be called 9th Book of Madrigals. Abandoning equality of voices, featuring soprano and bass, he gave dramatic space for musical action. Repetitions, rapid changes of dynamics and dissonances were connected to lyrics. In such free harmonics comes the natural tendency to creating tonal gravity center and this was beginning of new functional tonality. Monteverdi’s improvements become the model for generation of baroque composers working after Monteverdi’s death. Among them were Giacomo Carissimi, Barbara Strozzi and many others. Although this great achievements, during next two centuries his music was almost totally forgotten. 

Nadia Boulanger conducts Monteverdi (1952)

   After 19th century revival of baroque music, Monteverdi was back from the shadow, but artistic attitudes to his works as well as other early baroque composers were predominantly doubtful. There was always fundamental question if historic works should be played with modern feeling or in purest, most crude shape. And most artists were choosing an intermediate position. One of them was Nadia Boulanger, composer, conductor and famous teacher of most successful composers. Her impact on 20th century music can’t be overestimated. For the first time she recorded collection of Monteverdi’s Madrigals in 1937. In 1952 in France and US Decca released the album of 11 works performed by Vocal and Instrumental Ensemble under the direction of Nadia Boulanger. The same year it was published in Great Britain by Brunswick label. There is no information when it was recorded, but quality convinces it was after the war.
   Program of this record comprises mainly madrigals. Opening are 5 voices madrigals O mirtillo, Mirtill'anima mia and Era l'anima mia from 5th Book of Madrigals (1605), then 3 voice Scherzo “Damigella tutta bella” from Scherzi musicali (1607), 2 voice O, come vaghi from 9th Book of Madrigals (1651) and 5 voice Sfogava con le stele from 4th Book of Madrigals (1604). Second side includes two works from 8th Book of Madrigals (1638): Canto amoroso for 5 voices  Dolcissimo uscignolo and Canto amoroso for 3 voices, 2 singers and alto Su su pastorelli vezzosi, Madrigals for 2 voices Interrotte speranze from 7th Book (1619) and for 5 voices A un giro sol de bell'occhi lucenti from 4th Book (1603), Scherzo musicale in recitative style Quel sguardo sdegnosetto from Scherzi musicali (1632) and Concertato Madrigale for 5 voices Qui rise tirsi from 6th Book of Madrigals (1614). In various setups artist were testing interpreting possibilities.
   Nadia Boulanger made clear vision of an early baroque sensibility. And this recording was strong statement in the discussions on performing ancient music. She directed the ensemble of nine singers: Flore Wend (soprano), Donna Rumsey (soprano), Geneviève Massignon (soprano), Nancy Waugh (mezzo-soprano), Violette Journeaux (contralto), Hugues Cuenod (tenor), Paul Derenne (tenor), Doda Conrad (bass), Bernard Cottret (bass) and eleven instrumentalists with Luben Jordanoff (violin), Pierre Pasquier (solo viola), Colette Lequien (viola), Maurice Gendron (solo violoncello), Pierre Barthélemy (contrabass), Pierre Jamet (harp) and four more cellists. Nadia Boulanger conducted and played harpsichord. Great album, even considering some old fashioned  voice projection. For studying esthetical evolution of the interpreting art it’s indispensable. Three and half stars should cover its value.

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