Notes and Editorial Reviews
With this release the ensemble La Venexiana and its Glossa label present one of the finest recorded programs of Gesualdo madrigals in the catalog. Skeptical as always, I approached this disc expecting to find serviceable yet ultimately rough-around-the-edges performances--well-intended but succumbing to the quirky difficulties and mannerisms of Gesualdo's colorful scores. Not so. These singers (beautiful voices all) and their instrumental partners, who occasionally accompany on lute or, on one significant track, play solo harpsichord, really know the style, the language, the meaning of these pieces, whose evocative poetry and illustrative musical settings require nothing less. Of course, this is the
slightly more conventional Gesualdo of Book 4, not the more famously wild and wonderfully odd Gesualdo of madrigal Books 5 and 6. And yet, the signs of the composer's journey to the edge of the harmonic and structural "twilight zone" of his era are there and often come into dazzling focus--as in Io tacerò ma nel silentio and also in Ecco, morirò dunque, which are among the more expressive and beautiful vocal works of this or any other period.
And, as we hear throughout, these singers, with unflagging musical intensity and knowing sensitivity to the texts--and without the slightest hint of overplaying--give us the sense that we might be experiencing these pieces as their original audiences did, without the pretentiousness or self-conscious formality that ruins so many modern performances of early music. Highlights include soprano Rossana Bertini's solo (with lutes) rendition of Sento che nel partire (one of two pieces from Book 2), the poignant Questa crudele e pia ("That cruel and kind woman cries for my weeping and suffers for my woe. . .") and Sparge la morte ("Death draws over the face of my Lord. . ."), the solid technique and lovely, rich-toned singing of bass Daniele Carnovich, and, well, I could go on and just name everything!
The one instrumental selection is the deliciously demented Canzon francese del Principe, and this harpsichord version contrasts nicely with the reference interpretation by harpist Andrew Lawrence-King on a Harmonia Mundi disc with Les Arts Florissants--a disc that also includes a few of the Book 4 madrigals performed here. I should note that for some of the vocal pieces--the ones that Gesualdo scored for high treble--La Venexiana chooses to transpose them down a third or a fourth. Les Arts Florissants performs them in their original keys and although the comparison is rather dramatic, La Venexiana's versions actually lie more naturally in the voices and fall more kindly on the ear. The disc's final work (also included on the reference disc in its original higher key) is a choice selection from Book 5, Mercè grido piangendo ("Mercy! I cry, weeping. . ."), which dramatically reminds us of the more bizarrely-inspired composer to come. The sound is about as ideal as you could desire for a small vocal ensemble, lute, and harpsichord. If you're already a Gesualdo fan, you won't want to miss this. If you're wanting to get to know his music, start here. [1/21/2002]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Madrigals, Book 4 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1596; Italy
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