The group is San Francisco-based, and some of its members actually reside in that area. Its artistic director, Warren Stewart, however, now lives in Berlin. One of its two tenors, Paul Elliott, directs IU’s Early Music Institute. Its theorbo player is Nigel North, another EMI stalwart. The bunch of them get together periodically as Magnificat Baroque. And as such, they united here in recent days, six vocalists and eight instrumentalists, to prepare for a Bloomington Early Music Festival performance Saturday evening in First United Church. What a concert they gave.
They roused a large audience to cheers with generous samplings of music from Claudio Monteverdi’s Eighth (and final) Book of Madrigals, his “Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi” (“Madrigals of War and Love”). The event turned out to be a case of stunning music stunningly realized.
The Monteverdi material has been at the heart of Magnificat Baroque’s repertoire for some 20 years. One could tell. Heard was a combine of singing and playing completely natural, stylistically right, and utterly tantalizing. Director Stewart devoted the first part of the program to the songs of war, the second to those of love. They intersect in the belief espoused by Monteverdi and the poets whose words he used that war and love have a strong relationship, in that warriors return from battle to love and that lovers do battle in the conflict between the sexes.
A sampling of interpretive approach came early, in the first madrigal chosen, “Altri canti d’Amor.” As the singers gave breath to words about love (“Let others sing of Love, the tender archer’s sweet charms and sighed-for kisses”), the music seemed to be carried on soft breezes. When the words shifted to war (“Of Mars I sing, furious and fierce, the harsh clashes and the bold battles”), a storm of sound accosted the ears. Nothing heard seemed forced; music and performance supported emotion and mood.