I Fagiolini are perhaps best known for The Full Monteverdi, their radical retelling of Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals, which shot from quirky festival experiment to cinematic success last year. This lunchtime PCM slot may have been more dilated in focus but it offered something close to an emotional strip-show of its own, treating the Cadogan Hall’s genteel audience to bloody bombast and erotic longing, before dragging them to the depths of hell and back.
Playing under Robert Hollingworth’s crisp direction, the group were joined for the first and third pieces by viol players from Barokksolistene, Norway’s foremost Baroque ensemble. We started with Volgendo il ciel, a curious little ballet from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals that was apparently written in honour of the Holy Roman Emperor. War is the theme, the poet (Nicholas Mulroy) and chorus telling of noble ascent and gory conquest, but it breaks into a stunning, almost virtuosic, harp and lute interlude, which was beautifully played by Joy Smith and Eligio Quinteiro respectively.
A short Lamento d’Arianna is all that survives of Monteverdi’s second opera Arianna, which was composed exactly 400 years ago, but it must surely represent its dramatic heart: Ariadne, having been abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos, lamenting her fate. The piece segues from blind fury to languid self-pity, ending with awkward forgiveness, and the ensemble here highlighted all the rich shading of the composition. One got a sense of male and female voices blending and conflicting by equal turns, and the intentional paradox of pain and pleasure as they worked through harmony and dissonance.
Another madrigal from the Eighth Book, Il ballo delle ingrate is a sort of perverse morality tale for all those ‘ungrateful ladies’ who shun the advances of men, and thereby condemn themselves to hell’s fiery furnace. Venus was sung by Clare Wilkinson, whose small but perfectly formed mezzo was well-suited to the space, and Anna Crookes (a late stand-in) made a fine Cupid, but it was bassist Jonathan Sells, plunging to demonic depths in the role of Mercury, who best conveyed the dark not to say warped humour of the piece.