Among my favourite and most joyous recordings downloaded to my computer list over the last decade or so are those by one of the most renowned and respected music groups in the world Les Arts Florissants. Before that I purchased CD’s, which all had to go when I moved to Melbourne.
Named for a short opera by French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), Les Arts Florissants has played a pioneering role in the revival of playing and appreciating Baroque repertoire around the world now for decades. Their approach and playing retains a freshness that is at the essence of the group’s outstanding success.
Widely performed and admired, six singers, accompanied by two lutenist and harpsichord will be visiting Australia soon to perform two separate programs of Monteverdi Madrigals to mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of Italian composer and the singer’s champion Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).
Les Arts Florissants will perform The Cremona Madrigals on Monday April 3rd at 7.30pm and The Mantua Madrigals on Tuesday April 4th at 7.30pm at the Concourse Performing Arts Centre in Chatswood, Sydney, exclusively.
Les Arts Florissants mission when founded in 1901 was to perform and make known around the world, the wonderful works that make up the musical heritage of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France; music of the Baroque style for which the connotation is that it is inherently beautiful music.
The potential of the melodic line to inspire the listener through rhetorical dialogue and at times, technical virtuosity, is an inherent characteristic of the Baroque style in music especially when associated with Claudio Monteverdi, surely one of music histories most extraordinary individuals, who created and formed a whole new form of art in his age.
Essentially classical and modern at the same time, Monteverdi’s music represents a height of musical invention and expression, as he elevated melody and singing to a new height of achievement.
It was Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie in 1979 who created Les Arts Florissants the Ensemble, which he directed until 2007. Today British tenor and associate music director, Paul Agnew, who will lead the ensemble to Sydney for this exclusive visit, regularly wields the conductor’s baton.
Agnew started with the group singing high-tenor roles before becoming a guest conductor and undertaking to record the complete cycle of Monteverdi’s madrigals from his legacy of eight books.
“Interpreting Monteverdi’s madrigals allows us to understand the fantastic evolution of his music through which we discover the revolution that took place in Italian music at the beginning of the seventeenth-century” – Paul Agnew.
Agnew organised Monteverdi’s compositions in chronological order to reflect where he was born Cremona, where he was a vocalist and viol player, Mantua, and where he was employed as music director at the court of Vincenzo 1 of Gonzaga, and then finally at Venice where he wrote three operas among the last of his works.
Claudio Monteverdi was one of the boldest inventors and masters of the madrigal, a form of vocal chamber music that gained international status in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, originating in the north of Italy during the fourteenth century.
An exceptional musician, Monteverdi applied himself to the pursuit of his passion, for that of music that combined the power of meditation with poetry, just perfect for contemplation.
Monteverdi embraced his age’s victorious rhythms and melodies with alacrity, becoming the greatest baroque poet of all by creating works that at their heart explored the secret depths of the human soul.
His great mastery of the madrigal shape according to musical requirements, displays dramatic insight and played an important role in inspiring musical design in the ensuing centuries.
I love the analogy that in history Monteverdi’s intimate kinship is with Renaissance sculptor Michaelangelom which is played out in their ‘titanic struggle with matter and form’. For me his music echoes and expresses the serene loneliness that comes from being blessed with such unique genius as indeed they both were.
Les Arts Florissants were the first ensemble in Europe to perform the complete cycle of madrigals in chronological order and during the last five years have given more than 150 concerts in 30 European cities.
Both performances and recordings of Monteverdi Madrigals by Les Arts Florissants have been praised with Gramophone Magazine in the UK naming their CD of the CREMONA madrigals Best Baroque Vocal Recording of 2016.
Australian soprano Miriam Allan who has been associated with the Monteverdi project since inception and France’s ‘rock star of the lute’ Thomas Dumford are both involved in this tour and those lucky enough to be visiting or residing in Sydney with tickets to this great event will surely consider themselves very fortunate indeed.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle
The CREMONA madrigals
Monday 3 April at 7.30pm
The MANTUA madrigals
Tuesday 4 April at 7.30pm
The Concourse, Chatswood, Sydney