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Monteverdi was always one to move with – and keep abreast of – changing fashions in music during his lifetime, and in his last four books of madrigals adopted the latest fashion of basso continuo accompaniment. Each of these books has, as John Whenham points out in his excellent liner notes, its own defined character – as great as the range of emotions Monteverdi had found in his five books of unaccompanied madrigals had been, he raised the expressive power of the madrigal to new heights here.

Jonathan Cohen has created a rather convincing narrative structure out of his selections: the triumphant warrior of ‘Volgendo il ciel’ and ‘Movete al mio bel suon’, rides away in search of more battles, which he finds in the extended drama of the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Then, once that tale has reached its terrible end, we endure a period of aural mourning for the dead beloved, before finally coming to the tomb in the cyclic masterpiece that is the Sestina.

Of the two emotional foci of the disc, the Combattimento and the Sestina, the former is the more draining listening, thanks to the thrilling, visceral singing of James Gilchrist, in whose narration is summoned up every sword clash, every colour of the night, and almost every exhausted breath. I can’t imagine better performances of the middle-of-the- programme madrigals, but the Sestina is rather too restrainedly sung – a slightly disappointing finale to what is otherwise an outstanding disc.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing