review Concerto Italiano Queens Hall

Monteverdi's madrigal "Era l'anima mia" is a musical portrayal of an orgasm. Perhaps it should carry an adults-only rating. At any rate, it was condemned by a pious contemporary; doubles entendres were perfectly understood at the time.

Madrigals used to be the territory of the bearded and sandalled, but Concerto Italiano, the young group of Monteverdi specialists who gave the morning recital on Tuesday, go strongly for the sex, the humour, the sophistication, the sensuality in these pieces. They are camp, exquisite, tangential, ironic.

Although this is a flexible outfit, fielding as many performers as the programme demands, there were six vocalists in this concert at the Queen's Hall, with two theorbo players and their director, Rinaldo Alessandrini, who also played harpsichord. The voices are intimate yet fresh and resinous, with the kind of reedy tone that suggests insolence and scandal. There is no hint of "early-music" pallor; everything comes across with take-it- or-leave-it brio.

Sometimes the manneristic polish is almost too expert, too uniform. Every phrase is shaped away to a pianissimo, every note swells to a rich fullness and then dies towards the cadence. But the bewitching rapid detail of "Io mi son giovinetta", with the two sopranos as cheeky girls, the richly savoured dissonances of "Non m'e grave il morire", the sensual caressing of phrases in "La bocca onde l'asprissime parole", all bore witness to the endless variety of this extraordinary composer. Very few of the pieces were sung unaccompanied (indeed, "Amarilli, del candido ligustro", which began the second half, was less successful), the two enormous archlutes being used wherever possible. Sometimes, these huge instruments seemed too loud, as when they competed with a brilliantly realised rustle of consonants in "Vaga su spina ascosa".

Some of the later madrigals are little dramas; the dialogue of Floro and Florida in "A Dio Florida bella" was discreetly hand-led, not pulled apart by the freedoms of semi-staging.

There were special showpieces: memorable were the clash and blend of the women's voices in "Ohime, dov'e il mio ben", and the absurd exchanges of the men in "Gira il nemico", a madrigal about warfare which was done as a comic production number.

Usually, however, it was the precision and unanimity that impressed, in the manner of a string quartet, the singers glancing at each other and moving their bodies in unison. It was all so scandalous, yet innocent: the perfect Renaissance impression.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before