Il Giardino Armonico record works by Vivaldi, Ferrandini, and Monteverdi - Il Pianto di Maria - the Virgin's Lament on Decca L'Oiseau-Lyre After IGA's release of Handel, they've now turned to a more Italian program featuring the mezzo/alto Bernarda Fink. I've heard Fink before in a recording with Musica Antiqua Köln and didn't care for it. In fact, I rarely ever liked the vocalists that worked with MAK. But here, Fink is much more palatable, in a collection of familiar works. We open with one of those works (RV 130) that gets recorded "as filler" far too often. Have a little Vivaldi, and want some filler, add one of his little string chamber concertos. IGA play it well enough, but I never found these works worth the time. Then we move on to a work that I love; it's a sometimes attributed to G.F. Handel. It was recorded by Otter with MAK years ago on an otherwise all-Handel recording. It's likely not Handel, at least the musical language sounds far too passionate, even among some of Handel's Italian works. So it's good to have two versions... IGA with Fink vs. MAK with Otter. Who wins? Does it speak well enough for the remainder of the CD as well? I think MAK wins on the instrumentals. It sounds as if IGA are playing with a less cohesive string ensemble and at times, honestly, they're not perfectly in tune. The MAK reading is also more passionate. For the singing, I think I prefer Fink. MAK takes a slower pace in the show-stopping aira, Sventuarti miei sospiri, yet the violins are farther out front with the dissonances in strident tones. Another familiar "filler" here is the Marini Passacaglio. MAK recorded this around 1980, I believe, with their own collection of vocal works, including the Monteverdi Pianto. IGA's reading is among the strangest I've ever heard. With Antonini it sounds more like a funny dance. The lilt they use is quite unfamiliar to my ears, and at first listen I didn't care for it. With repeated listens it grows, but my favorite texture for Marini's work is with solo strings. Then we hit the major work on the CD: Monteverdi's arrangement of Ariane's Lament, his Pianto della Madonna. They use here lute and gamba for the bass (a small organ seems the most appropriate, but when you have an expert lutenist as a founding member of your ensemble, you'll use him). Fink's huskier voice is quite a change in character from the angelic voice we get with Emma Kirkby and her recording with Anthony Rooley. That said, Fink and IGA deliver with an appropriate amount of gravitas and passion in their reading. It's only too bad they didn't include a work for solo violin that mimicked the work by Monteverdi. Instead, more Vivaldi filler: RV 129 and RV 169. While Vivaldi's D minor concerto follow the Monteverdi work in the same key (good idea) it's far too modern in comparison. At 14 seconds in the second movement (track 15) you can hear talking or coughing going on. Again at around 29 seconds, too. Rather messy for a premium priced recording. More noise can be heard from the instruments at the start of track 19, the second half of RV 169. RV 129 is a far better work by Vivaldi, but again, I question the program of early baroque vocal works, late baroque (Ferrandini) packed into a recording together with Vivaldi. Vivaldi's works here maybe reference older-style vocal works, but they're not among is better pieces. Before we end on Vivaldi phluff, we take a stroll into another time with Conti's Il Matrtiro di San Lorenzo for solo voice and chalamaux. You mean you have woodwinds in your ensemble, and you save it for one stinking track?! IGA's best recordings were their set of Vivaldi chamber works. Impeccable and first-class in taste, sound, technique, and tempo. Expert playing of the highest order. I don't think their strongest point is ensemble string playing. Conti's work comes between two string pieces and sounds very modern in comparison to the other works, even the Ferrandini. It's slow tempo would release it from any regular rotation I'd entertain. Conti can't write a line like Vivaldi or Bach, for example, and while pulling in an less-well known vocal work into the mix might have seemed like a good idea, my curiosity is piqued with just one work by one composer I hadn't entertained before. Again: questions of programming. The recording ends with a two-movement work for "strings" but it includes the full IGA emsemble (oboe and perhaps chalamaux included). And who wrote this one? Oh, a German violinist. Herr Johann Georg Pisendel. IGA ends on a strong note, they like this Pisendel fugue in track 22, but it's a shame it's the best thing on the disc at only 2 and a quarter minutes long. Don't get me wrong: it's not all sour grapes in this latest release from one of my favorite ensembles. But I do take issue here with their programming, the un-even cohesiveness and "sound" of the strings when alone, and especially the inclusion of over-worked Vivaldi chamber sonatas (he might call them concerti, but they're odd little pieces). After a stronger release with their re-interpretation of Handel, they disappoint a bit here with Italian fare. This might be valuable to folks who don't already have some of these works in their collection. My advice would be to mix up the works with other, more appropriate companions when you listen.