By Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times
Love and war are the subjects of Monteverdi’s towering eighth book of madrigals, and they can be hard to tell apart. “The enemy, insidious Love, encircles the fortress of my heart,” goes one of the texts, an example of many in this collection of the blurring between “amor” and “guerra.”
The amorous mood won out on Saturday evening at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on the Upper West Side, where the ensembleTenet presented the sweet-natured program “Madrigals of Love and War.” It interspersed a handful of selections from Monteverdi with bits of his opera “Orfeo” and instrumental works by some of his contemporaries, among them obscurities like Bastian Chilese.
Tenet is led by the soprano Jolle Greenleaf, here heated yet graceful in the great “Lamento della ninfa,” but the group was on this occasion joined by a guest music director, the eminent lutenist and scholar Paul O’Dette. He conducted (from the lute) a performance of relaxed gentleness, which occasionally could have benefited from a bit more intensity.
The emphasis here was on pleasing polish, as in the persuasively unified hush of the voices at the start of “Hor che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace.” (The singers Molly Quinn, Reginald Mobley, Jason McStoots, Aaron Sheehan and John Taylor Ward, all excellent, joined Ms. Greenleaf in varying combinations.) Among the experienced instrumental ensemble, highlights included Robert Mealy, characteristically firm yet subtle on the violin, and the agile, liquid cornetto playing of Doron David Sherwin.