Dallas — The work of Claudio Monteverdi is among the most popular of all his contemporaries. His contributions to the madrigal genre earn him the credit of being one of the most influential figures on style and form in the transition from Renaissance music to Baroque music.
By the end of his long and prolific career, Monteverdi had composed nine books of madrigals, highlighting the shifting standards from one era to the next. It is, arguably, the seventh in the series that marks the most drastic departure from conventional compositional practices — the five-voice form set a cappella — and a vigorous exploration into new settings and stylizations.
Titled “Concerto,” the collection actually does not contain a single “madrigal” as one would understand the term to mean at the time of its publishing. Still, the effect of Monteverdi’s artistic innovation can be felt in the performance of the work, which Dallas Bach Society demonstrated (with some clever edits and omissions for the sake of time) in their season opener on Oct. 12 at Zion Lutheran Church.
Artistic director James Richman’s assemblage of vocalists and instrumentalists showed a sensitivity to the genre and the period from which the music hails. Before the seventh book, the madrigal was known to be performed without instruments and usual set equally between five voices. Here, Monteverdi’s compositions call for a range of vocal combinations with varied accompaniment, including strings, winds, and basso continuo.
The seven singers contracted for this performance were gentle in their colorations, in line with the period, although at times noticeably unbalanced in their blend during the larger group movements.
Notably, the soprano duet “Non e di gentil core” provided an impressively coordinated mix of timbres and well-placed ornamentations between the soloists. Likewise, the dark tenor duet “Interrotte speranze, eterna fede” of the second half was appropriately sparse and moody. The charming and humorous men’s trio “Eccomi pront’ai baci,” which tells the story of a maiden beseeching her to kiss her and not bite her as he does, was a crowd favorite of the evening.
Soloist Dianna Grabowski (mezzo-soprano) provided a lovely interpretation of “Se i languidi miei sguardi.” The nearly eight-minute piece presents a letter intended to be sent to one’s beloved. Grabowski’s mezzo was rounded, warm, and light with agile, thoughtfully applied ornamentation.
The program finished with the traditional ballo (a 15th century dance), telling the story of lovers Tirsi and Clori. It starts with two principals — tenor and soprano — embodying the characters and then opens up to a full company jubilee. Here, there were a few issues with rhythmic cohesion between voices and orchestra. The ballo is characterized by frequent changes in tempo and meter, which the ensemble eventually managed to navigate over the happy “Let us dance…” refrains.
The theme of Monteverdi’s seventh book of madrigals is love and all the various aspects it entails — passion, commitment, longing, sadness, joy, etc. With the added element of English translations projected upstage of the ensemble, the whole story of the collection read clear with charm. And, apart from some uneven vocal blends here and there, Richman and DBS managed to do what they do best — present the rich, delicate colors of early and Baroque music in an authentic, historically conscious setting.