Wednesday 8 July 2020

From Monteverdi to Modernism

My usual attraction is to go for contrast, which is, incidentally, a basic requirement of musical expression, soft to loud, slow to quick, low to high, etc. Here are two recent recordings that exemplify contrast.

Christopher Rouse, Symphony 5, Supplica & Concerto for Orchestra. Nashville Symphony, c. Giancarlo Guerrero. Naxos American Classics

American contemporary music is neither inhibited nor inaccessible. Rouse (1949 - 2019, my exact contemporary) and one time student of the fabulous George Crumb is where symphonic music's mantle rests today - his music a constant stream of contrasts, most notably from loud and frenetic, to quiet serenity, the transformation from one to the other often stark. Always present is the sense of being carried along, as by an automotive, the journey ever continuous. There is a highly attractive balance in his music between uncomfortable discord and soothing harmony and this is probably what made Rouse one of the most performed living composers during his lifetime. That's the symphony in a nutshell; the piece Supplica belongs to Rouse's serene world, while the Concerto for Orchestra is a tour de force for each orchestra section, each of which takes the role of 'soloist'. The USA is not a well nation today on many levels, but its music suggests an underlying strata of promise for the future.

Monteverdi, Complete Madrigals, Delitiae Musicae, c. Marco Longhini. Naxos. 15 discs; 15 'books'

Here is a veritable feast of madrigal music, secular song, whose expression reached its peak with the works of Monteverdi (1567-1643). His First Book of Madrigals for Five Voices was published in Venice in 1587 at the age of nineteen. These 'youthful compositions' formed the seed for later works that would change the art of composition for ever. The madrigal, here in Monteverdi charged with high-voltage sexual desire, delight and pain, was a quest to transform poetry into music. It became the highest form of refinement and cultural expression patronised by the courts and their followers:

This hand set the snare, this
loveliest of hands laid it midst flowers and grass,
and this hand took my heart and placed it
with such haste amid a thousand burning flames.
that I hold it captive here,
vengeance, Love, vengeance.