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The members of the ensemble La Venexiana won in 1994 the Gramophone Award for Early Music under the name Concerto Italiano. They are some of the most experienced European performers in the early music field, and have been singing together for many years, establishing a new style in Italian early music performances: a warm, truly Mediterranean blend of textual declamation, textural color and harmonic refinement. This repertoire seems to be created as if to let them fully show their expressive powers. Barbara Strozzi's talent shines in this pieces, designed to show her excepcional dramatic powers and unique gifts for musical imaginery. Many of these madrigals have the appearance of a succession of operatic scenes in miniature, each with its particular dramatic atmosphere and with the participation of several soloists.
To sense the emotional charge coursing through Carlo Gesualdo at the time when he was composing his Sixth Book of Madrigals, there is no better starting point than a thrilling new recording being issued on Glossa from La Compagnia del Madrigale. Some of the finest singers in the madrigal repertoire today – including Giuseppe Maletto, Daniele Carnovich and Rossana Bertini, and they have been refining their a cappella artistry over more than twenty years with groups such as La Venexiana and Concerto Italiano – now restore humanness, warmth, pictorial beauty and richness to one of the most complex cycles in all music. This marks the group’s triumphant entry onto a label which has always made the exploration of the Italian madrigal repertory one of its cornerstones.
Claudio Monteverdi's Seventh Book of Madrigals, written in 1619, was really the first that was fully part of the new operatic age – and really the first to consist of pieces that were not really madrigals at all. For all of the soloistic and operatic expressive devices, for all the block chords that had appeared in the previous few books, this was the first set in which Monteverdi dispensed with the traditional five-voice texture of the madrigal.
Claudio Monteverdi's late works, like those of Beethoven, contain singular mixtures of simplicity and complexity. Book Eight of his madrigals are about love and war, themes as elemental as they come. Yet consider the madrigal Ogni amante è guerrier (Every Lover is a Warrior, track 6 on the first CD of this set), with its text by Ottavio Rinuccini that subtly conflates the two ideas. Monteverdi's setting, for a low voice, is moody, involved, and philosophical.
With the release of Monteverdi's Fifth Book of Madrigals, La Venexiana, the extraordinary ensemble founded and led by countertenor Claudio Cavina, comes close to completing its cycle of Monteverdi's nine volumes for Glossa, with only the first and last books left to record. The Fifth Book, published just before Monteverdi wrote Orfeo, is a pivotal collection that incorporates conventions both of Renaissance madrigals and of the emerging Baroque. La Venexiana's performance is notable for its musical and emotional intensity.