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Gesualdo: The Complete Madrigals


Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8507013   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carlo Gesualdo
Performer:  Carmen Leoni
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Number of Discs: 7 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



GESUALDO Madrigals: Books I–VI. Canzon francese del Principe. 1 Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa. Come vivi cor mio. All’ombra degli allori Marco Longhini, cond; Carmen Leoni (hpd, 1 clvd, org); Delitiæ Musicæ NAXOS 8.507013 (7 CDs: 433:43 Text and Translation)


Here, at last, Marco Longhini’s complete set of Read more madrigals by Don Carlo Gesualdo is available in a handsome box which includes a lavish (for Naxos) booklet containing Longhini’s liner notes and, wonder of wonders, full texts and translations for each piece. J. F. Weber reviewed Book I in Fanfare 34:1, Book II in 34:5, Book III in 35:3. Book IV in 36:2, and Books V and VI in 37:2. This boxed set includes the complete set. According to online sources, Books V and VI were issued in the spring of 2013 as a three-CD set (Naxos 8.573147/49), mostly because both books are too long to fit onto one CD each. The first two discs of this set have timings of 74 and 67 minutes respectively, while the third is 41:21. I’m not terribly upset by this, although in the early Books director Longhini filled out shorter CDs with some additional instrumental and vocal works (listed above).


Those unfamiliar with Gesualdo’s strange and perverted life are referred to other sources, such as Robert Craft’s most recent book; I won’t go into much detail here except to wonder how a pervert and murderer (and he is verified as being both, though Longhini’s notes only cover the murder) could produce such exquisite, moving, and remarkably inventive music. It is as if Wolfgang Mozart were really a combination of Ted Bundy and the Marquis de Sade.


Strictly from a technical standpoint, Gesualdo’s genius was best described by Andrew Parrott in his notes to his own album of Gesualdo madrigals. To paraphrase, Gesualdo’s powerful social position as a prince meant that he didn’t have to curry favor from anyone above him, but could simply write music that appealed to him, and what evidently appealed to him was to completely skip “transition” chords and instead jump into foreign harmonies without preparing the listener for the changes. In the first four books of madrigals these harmonic changes are less frequent and more subtle, but by the time of his last two books he was ignoring the rules of harmony with impunity. Three hundred and fifty years later, this harmonic daring caught the ear of both Igor Stravinsky, who wrote a remarkable piece synthesizing some of Gesualdo’s musical daring, and his amanuensis Robert Craft, who in 1958 and 1962 recorded albums of Gesualdo madrigals for Columbia.


As to the performance quality, it is first-rate. The singers of Delitiæ Musicæ, individually and collectively, are fascinating: not quite as individual in their timbres as the five remarkable singers that Robert Craft assembled for his groundbreaking 1958 album (a group that included the superb countertenor Richard Levitt and the then-unknown mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne) or Alan Curtis’s Il Complesso Barocco as heard in the 1995 Werner Herzog film Death for Five Voices (much of their great clarity due to the fact that they performed, and were filmed, in a small library with enclosed acoustics), but certainly clear enough so that the harmonic movement within each chord can be discerned clearly, and with absolutely impeccable diction. My readers will know that these are the two banes of my existence when reviewing many modern choirs—a mushy, indistinct choral blend configured to achieve perfect roundness of tone but nearly always causing a loss of clarity in the individual lines of music and a severe loss of diction (regardless of the language being sung). What I found particularly interesting about Delitiæ Musicæ was that their tenors, particularly Fabio Fùrnari who is listed as “Tenor (quintus-altus),” have extraordinarily round, pure sounds that border on the quality of female mezzos; countertenors Alessandro Carmignani and Paolo Costa have surprisingly full tones and timbres reminiscent of Levitt in his prime; while basso Walter Testolin has an unusual voce with a bit of a “buzz” in the tone that nearly always makes it stand out, sounding simultaneously part of the ensemble and something like a viola da gamba. He also sounds very much like the bass in Levitt’s own group of the 1960s, the Vocal Arts Ensemble. The clarity of Delitiæ Musicæ’s diction is also enhanced by the recorded sound, which has just enough space around the voices to give them a nice ambience while still keeping them close enough to the microphone to let you hear every single word. I was also enormously impressed with their individual and collective vocal “attack”: The notes do not simply “appear out of the air,” but each has a distinctive and clear consonant beginning that, miraculously, does not disrupt the musical flow.


Now, here’s something interesting. Having never heard Craft’s recordings, I went out of my way to order a copy via interlibrary loan in order to compare it to the performances on this set. Vocally, there is no complaint, but the musical treatment sounds too strict in tempo. Everything is sung in a linear fashion, absolutely no rubato, no changes of volume, and phrasing that is as strict as a metronome. Heck, even Toscanini’s performances had more give-and-take than this! Moreover, even though certain voices within Craft’s group can be heard with their individual timbres, he doesn’t play the different lines of the music against each other clearly enough. After listening for about a half hour (the CD runs over 77 minutes), I had to take it off and return to the Longhini performances. That’s not necessarily a criticism of Craft—he just had no real feeling for directing early music, but instead applied the principles he brought to bear on Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern—so much as it is a huge compliment to Longhini. Even in a specifically slow number such as “Io pur respiro,” which if course Longhini takes slower (4:42 compared to Craft’s 3:09), there is absolutely no feeling for the text in Craft’s performance; the treatment is linear and lacking any sense of modulation or dynamic changes. Under Longhini’s expert direction, the music lives and breathes, the words have meaning, and he varies the tempos in different sections of the piece.


Weber’s reviews of the earlier discs in this series indicated that Longhini’s group sings the music slowly, which he feels enhances the ability of the ear to catch all the unusual dissonances and other harmonic daring in Gesualdo’s work. This is so; comparing the pieces here also recorded by Curtis and Craft shows sometimes large differences in timing, but the interesting thing is that, if you are just listening to these Longhini recordings and not comparing them, most of the performances don’t sound too slow. I attribute this to the exceptional clarity of line they achieve as well as their proclivity to keep pressing the tempos forward. The real aesthetic question is, unless you are a Gesualdo scholar, do you really need to have this complete set? Based on both the high quality of the music as well as the performances, I would say yes; and at $41.25 for the whole set (at Presto Classical), that brings the cost down from $6.16 per disc for the three-CD set of Books V–VI to $5.89 per disc for the complete box.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Madrigals, Book 1 by Carlo Gesualdo
Performer:  Carmen Leoni (Harpsichord)
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1594; Italy 
Venue:  Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, Azzago, 
2.
Madrigals, Book 2 by Carlo Gesualdo
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1594; Italy 
3.
Madrigals, Book 3 by Carlo Gesualdo
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1595; Italy 
4.
Madrigals, Book 4 by Carlo Gesualdo
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1596; Italy 
5.
Madrigals, Book 5 by Carlo Gesualdo
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1611; Italy 
6.
Madrigals, Book 6 by Carlo Gesualdo
Conductor:  Marco Longhini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Delitiae Musicae
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1611; Italy 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  4 Customer Reviews )
 Cesualdo complete marigals April 24, 2014 By B. Wagner (Schoenberg, Oesterrich) See All My Reviews "we are so happy with this Edition. It`s simply great sincerely Bernd Wagner" Report Abuse
 moving performances March 28, 2014 By Maxwell Sobel (Wesley Chapel, FL) See All My Reviews "Very polished and moving renditions of this remarkable composer's works. The diction and amazing harmonies are easily heard as they use minimal vibrato. Bonuses included in the collection are Gesualdo's surviving instrumental pieces, all very well done. The addition of harpsichord to some of the madrigals was at first a bit off-putting, but after repeat listening I found that it generally enhanced the music. There are a few madrigals with harpsichord that I would perhaps have liked better without the accompaniment, mostly because the keyboard player's additions were, in those works, odd. The group is all male so if one is desirous of a female sound on the top line these performances will sound very differently than that. But the male soprano line is exquisitely sung. Overall I feel the performances were very well done, very emotional but not exaggerated. The composer's striking originality is well showcased here. I'm looking forward to this groups' complete Monteverdi madrigals." Report Abuse
 Gorgeous music beautifully sung January 11, 2014 By G K Barranger (Covington, LA) See All My Reviews "For anyone interested in Gesualdo, this is the set to get. It is exquisite." Report Abuse
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