Original cover of Monteverdi’s fifth book of madrigals (from IMSLP, public domain)
It turns out that last November’s announcement that Brilliant Classics had concluded its project to record all of the madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi was not quite correct. While it is true that, with the release of a recording of the ninth book of madrigals in September of last year, Brilliant had released albums of all of the Monteverdi books sung by the early music group Le Nuove Musiche (the new music) led by Krijn Koetsveld, the two-CD release of the fifth and sixth books was not part of the “official complete madrigals project,” which was given the title Monteverdi XL. That earlier album was released in January of 2014 based on recordings made in 2008, while the first album to have Monteverdi XL on the cover was the two-CD release of the seventh book, which came out in January of 2016.
To be fair, the booklet for the seventh book explicitly described the album as the second release in the project. Nevertheless, this past Friday Brilliant released a new recording of the fifth and sixth books, this time with an album cover that includes the Monteverdi XL “brand.” While the accompanying booklet says nothing about this change in the counting process, one can find a possible explanation on the Amazon.com product page under the Editorial Reviews header (which actually comes from the descriptive paragraph in the New Release Guide provided by Naxos of America for releases on April 20 and April 27). Here are the sentences that come closest to providing an explanation:
With this recording the acclaimed ensemble Le Nuove Musiche, led by director Krijn Koetsveld, have come full circle and at last completed their monumental undertaking of a complete cycle of Claudio Monteverdi’s books of madrigals. In bringing this endeavour to a close the group have returned to their starting point, recording a fresh take of perhaps the most famous set, Monteverdi’s groundbreaking Books V & VI, previously released by Le Nuove Musiche one decade ago at the start of this musical journey.
Quite honestly, I am not quite sure how to take this. Given the commitment of Le Nuove Musiche to early music, I am inclined to think that this was sort of a nod to Guillaume de Machaut’s rondeau “Ma fin est mon commencement” (my end is my beginning). Considering the impact of this text on T. S. Eliot, that is a rather classy source of inspiration. However, I must confess that, however well-informed my own capacity for listening may be, I find myself hard pressed to identify any features that distinguish the new release of these two books from the old one. What matters more is the Koetsveld and his ensemble have now gone “on record” (pun intended) with accounts of all of Monteverdi’s madrigals that make for highly absorbing listening experiences.