Notes and Editorial Reviews
Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, became famous for two reasons: the bloody double murder of his first wife and her lover, and his passionate and erotic view of profane love. The Books of Madrigals chart the strong changes in his style, and contain some of the most inspired and anguished vocal works in the entire madrigal repertoire, on the themes of love, rejection, death, suffering, joy and sorrow. Brimming with often astonishing and sometimes unpredictable melodic and tonal contrasts to express the agonies and ecstasies of love, Gesualdo’s Madrigals show him to have been one of the most inventive and eccentric musical minds of his age.
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
We last encountered the 6-voice Italian male ensemble Delitiae Musicae in its series of Monteverdi madrigals for Naxos. And it's clear after spending a few minutes with this first volume of the group's planned 6-disc traversal of Carlo Gesualdo's works in the same genre that Delitiae Musicae truly owns this repertoire.
Although certainly not devoid of chromaticism and hints of Gesualdo's later ventures into sometimes bizarre harmonic territory, these works are overall more conventional in their expressive techniques--but what expression and what techniques! You won't hear more effectively written musical representations of the passion, pain, longing, or other of love's emotions portrayed in the poetic texts (primarily by Torquato Tasso) from any composer of the period, and these native singers understand the language--both written and musical--better than any other ensemble on disc. (Highlights begin at the opening two tracks--"Baci soavi e cari" Parts One and Two--and continue through another two-part madrigal near the program's end--"Felice primavera!")
The nuances of dynamics and phrasing--not to mention the exceptional breath control and intonation--show an ensemble, like the music's composer, working at the highest artistic level. You may not want to listen to all 20 of these pieces at one sitting, and the sound brings the voices just a bit too close in some places--a particular voice suddenly jumps out from the ensemble--but there's no doubt as to the pleasure you'll experience in hearing this music sung as it should be sung.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
This is beautiful, intense yet measured music sung beautifully, idiomatically and with spirit and spontaneity by Delitiæ Musicæ. Their conductor Marco Longhini, also prepared the text and score for this, the second CD from Naxos in a series of the madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa. This Book was published in 1594 and contains almost two dozen short - none from the main body of the Book is much longer than four minutes - pieces with a relatively restricted range of melodic, tonal and textual sentiments and exploration.
For all Gesualdo's famed experiments with tonality and near dissonance, there is a stately, somewhat conservative, 'safe' feel to the music throughout the hour of music presented here by the respected Italian early music specialist group. They're on ground less well-trodden that that occupied by the last three Books of Gesualdo's six in particular. And accordingly there’s a respect, though hardly any undue caution or reticence, on the part of Delitiæ Musicæ in order - it seems - to expose the music as simply as possible.
"Let's not approach it," they seem to be urging, "as the rantings of an uxoricide and musical iconoclast who styled his persona in Renaissance melancholy and self-indulgence." Rather, their style recognises this gentle, communicative, very human marriage of text and song - and instrumental accompaniment or solo playing in half a dozen or so of the tracks - for what it is. That's music which is undemonstrative yet full of feeling; which follows accepted praxes yet is fresh and penetrating; and which is completely able to carry full feelings without relying on effect or novelty.
The performers have clearly absorbed these madrigals' many qualities successfully; one waits in keen anticipation for the later Books in the series. It would perhaps have been better for Naxos to have released a double set of Books I and II since they were both published at almost the same time. What's more, certain madrigals both from this and the earlier release (Book I, Naxos 8.570548) are in (presumably) two parts but one or the other only is to be heard each time. To compensate, the music is of sufficient weight and drive for us to find each piece wholly satisfying.
Gesualdo was able to squeeze from his authors' poetry just as much as he needed for each madrigal - or, indeed, each type of madrigal - to make its impact. He never pulled the texts too thin. Interestingly, only Tasso, Guarini and Alfonso d'Avalos - the grandfather of Gesualdo's first wife, who was also his cousin - have been positively identified as having provided texts for the composer.
They're secular texts, distilled, intense and minimal. Yet for the maximum impact and enjoyment they require just the delicacy and sensitivity which these six singers (two countertenors, two tenors, baritone and bass) bring to the music. Their stylishness clearly extends to humour and awareness of the oddities of Gesualdo's existence, and his art. Yet the singers are never tempted to mock or distance themselves from it and its reputation. For the most part, they could be performing it for the first time. There are even some appropriately rough (not ragged) round the edges passages when syllables and timing take on a life of their own in the interests of realism.
Books III and IV are already in the works: the liner notes (which contain the full texts of Book II in Italian and English) refer to Naxos 8.572136/7. That's when the fireworks will begin; harmonic lines will squirm and chordal writing will stretch. Until then, this Book II, while it sees no need to keep any lids on, is unhistrionic and dour. Which is just what the music needs. The acoustic is close and helpful to the music.
Alternatives? The Gesualdo Consort's recording with Harry Van der Kamp on CPO 777 138 contains Books I, II and III and makes an excellent comparison; their pace is quicker too. It makes every sense to work through Gesualdo's madrigals as much in sequence as is possible in order to arrive at a good understanding of his world. Buy Book I and now Book II while waiting for III and IV, it is to be hoped in 2011 on the current release schedule. You will not be disappointed.
-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
Just listen to the variations in tempi and dynamic of Luci serene e chiare. It’s the first track of this fourth volume in the excellent series of Gesualdo's madrigals from Delitiæ Musicæ under Marco Longhini on Naxos. To hear this is to appreciate how effective care and attention to every nuance should be when singing what is often seen as a dark corner of the Renaissance vocal repertoire.
It goes on that way: the six singers and keyboard player (Carmen Leoni) treat every piece by the usually only anthologised Gesualdo as its own gem. They approach each madrigal almost as if it were Gesualdo's only one. This could, admittedly, lead to a laboured and self-conscious style. It doesn't. The Italian group's familiarity with and obvious love of Gesualdo's world sees to that.
Instead, our response is anticipation for each next madrigal while thoroughly savouring the particularities of the one we're listening to. In a way this helps to create an understanding of the corpus of this aspect of Gesualdo's output … two more CDs from Naxos - to whom Delitiæ Musicæ is under exclusive contract - and the cycle will be complete.
The composer's Fourth Book of madrigals was published in Ferrara in 1596 and quickly achieved several further printings - including one in 1613 in Genova in partitura - a rare occurrence enabling singers to experience the music 'horizontally', line by musical line.
This Fourth Book was intended as a kind of atonement for the composer's (conviction for the) murder of his first wife, Donna Maria d'Avalos in 1590. In the Kingdom of Naples a husband had such a legal right in the case of infidelity. But, although Gesualdo faced no punishment from the legal system, he was ostracised and marginalised by his own community. What Longhini - who also produced the 'Urtext Edition' for these recordings - and his singers have achieved so well is a convincing set of performances. This graciously and genuinely blurs any distinction that we might make four hundred years later between heartfelt remorse on Gesualdo's part and what the Renaissance poet, playwright and composer was able to make using events from life as material for art.
In a way the tone, the weeping, the dourness, the (self-)deploring, above all the self-doubt must be taken as starting points for this beautiful and affecting music - not as something to be expressed in and by it. The creativity, the tight and effective matching of texts (mostly anonymous and by Guarini) to tonality and texture are what matter. They stand on their own. That's the approach which these performers so successfully take.
At the heart of the set is what at first sight appears a misfit: Sparge la morte al mio Signor [tr.12], the longest piece here at almost seven and a half minutes. In fact to transfer the remorse to images of the unjustly (with ambivalences) murdered Christ illuminates the complexity of Gesualdo's thinking in these works. The suggestion is clear … alongside remorse and torment should come forgiveness and some sort of 'settlement'. Indeed by the time we get to Arde il mio cor [tr.19], the darkness has lifted somewhat, though Delitiæ Musicæ's tempi are still slow, if a little less deliberate. Although those resounding bass notes of Walter Testolin are held for just as long and are as chilling, there is a sense of hope. Certainly the remaining three pieces look upward and let light in.
Nevertheless, overall we're not allowed to forget the trauma, the potential for trauma, the torment represented by (secular) love, and the totality of a soul so affected when subjected to such searing and unrelenting self-examination. Not once do the singers lay the mud or paste on too thickly. Nor do they overlook the innovative nature of the sonic impact of the poetry … dissonance, distortion, a little interruption of the metrical line and much expressive, more easily-flowing consonance between text, harpsichord and song. You can hear this in the fittingly final Il sol qual or piu splende [tr.22]. While the phrase 'tour de force' would be wrong because it would suggest the need for a more mighty and strenuous push than is necessary here, the achievement of Longhini with Delitiæ Musicæ is a considerable one.
Their tone is just right from first to last, their articulation, emphases and sense of seriousness yet neither drab nor spuriously sparkling are indeed delightful. There is, to be sure, little of the lighthearted and springing qualities which we often associate with some madrigals. The purpose and drive behind these interpretations makes them hugely successful.
The booklet that comes with the CD has useful background - particularly to the killing and its subsequent effect on Gesualdo. It contains all the texts in Italian with English translation. The acoustic is clear and not too resonant, though full of intensity in atmosphere. If you've already been attracted to this excellent series, don't hesitate to add this to the collection. It's also a convincing and sensitive enough set of performances to encourage you to start and explore the lot. The Fifth Book is eagerly awaited.
– Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Madrigals, Book 1 by Carlo Gesualdo
Carmen Leoni (Harpsichord)
Written: by 1594; Italy
Venue: Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, Azzago,
Madrigals, Book 2 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1594; Italy
Madrigals, Book 3 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1595; Italy
Madrigals, Book 4 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1596; Italy
Madrigals, Book 5 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1611; Italy
Madrigals, Book 6 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1611; Italy
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Disappointing October 29, 2013
By Vincent Cirrincione (Thornton, CO) See All My Reviews
"Good performance, but terrible interpretation. If you are assuming (as I did) that since the ensemble has male countertenors these will be authentic period style performances, you will be very disappointed. The only reason I even gave it 2 stars instead of 1 is because the recording was good and the ensemble does have good intonation. But the title of the set would more accurately be: Music Loosely Based on Gesualdo Madrigals."