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

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea