Baroque music was created with physical and acoustic intimacy in mind, so the combination of Ludovico’s Band and the Melbourne Recital Centre’s little Salon almost guarantees a satisfying Early Music experience. Monteverdi: Love and War, the first of three 2017 Southbank Series concerts by these accomplished Baroque specialists, more than satisfied; it delighted the ear, and brought 17th century sighs of love back to life.
The hour-long program comprised three groupings of Monteverdi madrigals, interspersed with two instrumental works by his contemporaries, Dario Castello and Marco Uccellini. Harpist Marshall McGuire briefly introduced each one; his engaging manner contributed greatly to the sense of connection between band and audience in this intimate space. So too did the performers’ evident pleasure in their task – most notably Robert Macfarlane, one of five guest vocalists, who could hardly contain his glee at times.
The highlight of the concert was Monteverdi’s exquisite Lamento della Ninfa. Accompanied by Tommie Andersson’s gentle theorbo, Macfaralen, fellow tenor Timothy Reynolds and bass-baritone Nicholas Dinopoulos, confidently played with the sinuous melodic line, before the mournful sound of Ruth Wilkinson’s viola da gamba introduced a more sombre mood. As the rest of the band joined in, Helen Thomson delivered the nymph’s lament with a pure, expressive soprano.
The vocalists’ demonstration of Baroque technique and style were exemplary, in particular Reynolds and Macfarlane. Their capacity to toss notes and phrases between each other, then follow their own vocal line, was delightful, especially as their voices were so well matched. Their Mentre vaga angioletta, which is a catalogue of diverse vocal technique in both word and deed, was particularly exciting. Soprano duo Thomson and Erika Tandiono were also accomplished, though their top notes tended to swirl around the space.
Samantha Cohen on theorbo and guitar rounded out the band’s core, and violinists Rachael Beesley and Natalia Harvey vigorously took the lead during instrumentals. The Castello sonata began with a slight lack of cohesion, but soon settled into a bright, harmonious sound, while the Uccellini, with its surprising variations in meter and mood, was a showcase of the skill and sensitivity of Ludovico’s Band.
This splendid but appropriately intimate concert was a fine salute to the genius of Monteverdi (whose 450th birthday is celebrated in 2017), and yet another occasion to be grateful for the Baroque talent on our shores.