Classical: Aldeburgh Early Music Festival

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The Independent Culture
Time was when every young Italian singer aspired to perform Verdi or Puccini, no matter the cost to their vocal cords or the music. The works of Monteverdi and his contemporaries, so it seemed, were for undernourished wimps or Oxbridge-trained Englishmen. Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano have done much to reclaim Italy's early composers for the Italians, gaining international recognition for their releases on the enterprising Opus 111 label and thereby raising pride at home in the nation's "antique" music.

The group made its UK debut at the Third Aldeburgh Early Music Festival on Saturday with a short but delectable programme of Monteverdi madrigals, chosen to show the composer's rich inventiveness at its best. Concerto Italiano made it possible to hear the uncanny range of vocal colours as if with fresh ears, shifting seamlessly from the impassioned, despairing mood of such as "Non m'e grave il morire" to the bright, pastoral vision of "Io son pur vezzosetta". The singers' admirable diction and sheer delight in expressing individual words and textual images were securely rooted within the realms of good musical taste. Above all, Alessandrini encouraged the most delicate, soft-edged phrasing, carefully shaped and finely balanced all the way from the outstanding bass of Sergio Foresti to the well-matched upper voices.

Around the time Monteverdi was titillating the ears of the great and good in Mantua and Venice, audiences at London's public playhouses were being entertained by music of a far less arty nature. The songs and dances of Shakespeare's theatre came to Snape Maltings on Easter Sunday, delivered by the Musicians of the Globe. Sam Wanamaker's Globe Theatre project in Southwark may not yet be complete, but its resident band has already spent many hours in the recording studio and sounds very well indeed. Familiar songs from the Bard's plays, set with economy and restraint by Morley and Robert Johnson, formed the core of their Snape programme, cunningly interwoven with Elizabethan and Jacobean domestic music for mixed consort, lute and virginals. The combination of plucked, blown and scraped instruments offers an attractive and potent mix, especially when played with the skill and verve shown by the Globe musicians. Gary Cooper's nifty fingerwork on the virginals, Jacob Heringman's sprightly lute divisions and terrific folk fiddling from Adrian Chandler transformed works that might easily sound dull into energetic masterpieces.

Joanne Lunn's beguiling legato control and unforced but clear diction were ideal for the Shakespeare songs, although there were times when the texts or musical phrases demanded more contrast of colour and dynamic than they received. Her account of "Mother Watkin's Ale" owed more to Joyce Grenfell than to a 17th-century brothel-keeper; Lunn's unpretentious style proved far more affecting in Desdemona's "Willow Song" and especially in John Wilson's "Take, O take those lips away". The 19-year-old soprano, a former BBC chorister of the year, is a natural performer with a voice that shows signs of fine things to come.

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