I Fagiolini & Robert Hollingworth


***** Spitalfields Festival, Wiltons Music Hall, London

 The Guardian
13 June 2006
 George Hall

In its heyday, Wiltons must have seen many twice-nightly shows, which was the format adopted for I Fagiolini's Spitalfields festival concert in the appealingly bashed-about old music hall. It's a surprisingly adaptable space, with a lovable acoustic, and under their director Robert Hollingworth the group took advantage of its stage, quasi-baroque galleries and central aisle to bring its Monteverdi madrigals alive. In the process, the venue morphed from concert hall to theatre to church, with the singers straying into their trademark music-theatre territory to underline the meaning of the texts and music.

The theme was "flaming heart", inspired by the madrigal Ardo, Avvampo, whose image of love flinging torches into the heart of the lover activates all sorts of musical alarms and excursions in Monteverdi's flamboyant setting. Here it was the sheer vividness of the singers' aligning of words with notes that conveyed the desperation and excitement of this erotically charged piece.

Monteverdi's ability to turn poetic conceits into their musical equivalents rarely registers with such immediacy. The virtuoso vocal interplay of tenors Nicholas Hurndall Smith and Nicholas Mulroy in Zefiro Torna embodied the delicate sensuality of his treatment of an idyllic Arcadian text.

In the Prologue to Orfeo, alto Clare Wilkinson's personification of Music was equally direct, aided by the perfectly realised accompaniment offered by the group's instrumentalists. Most daring of all was the buttonholing of the audience by the five singers employed in Incenerite Spoglie, a potent memorial piece supposedly sung around the beloved's tomb. They didn't need the wreath they carried to the dead centre of the room to make their point; the naked intensity of their singing of Monteverdi's grief-stricken lines was almost unbearable in itself.