Notes and Editorial Reviews
, Books 5 and 6
Marco Longhini, cond; Delitiae Musicae
NAXOS 8.573147-49 (three discs: 182:40
Text and Translation)
Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566–1613), Prince of Venosa (the last of that aristocratic line), is renowned for the mannerist music he wrote, both sacred and secular, and the personal failings that enliven so many accounts of his life. He spent an important few years of his life in Ferrara after marrying the niece of Alfonso
II d’Este, a court where he had much company among composers and singers, including Cipriano de Rore, Jacques de Wert, and Luzzasco Luzzaschi, not to mention the celebrated singing Ladies of Ferrara. He had grown up in similar surroundings in Venosa, where one of his teachers was Pomponio Nenna.
Another set of Gesualdo’s madrigals has now been completed, the last of several recordings marking the quarter-centenary of his death, although even this last installment was recorded two or three years ago. Marco Longhini’s interpretive approach is just different enough to make this an alternative to the others rather than a competition among them. We have had the old version of Angelo Ephrikian, recorded in 1968 but still available, sung one voice to a part with slow tempos (not as slow as Longhini), stylistically obsolete in a new era of Baroque interpretation. The other complete set came from Kassiopeia (
33:4) with considerably faster tempos but a keen sense of style. Longhini has now provided the third complete set, including for good measure the few other secular works published separately. Several other directors have recorded complete books, perhaps hoping to complete all six, among them Harry van der Kamp (29:3), Anthony Rooley (8:2), and those mentioned below.
This collection is striking for its departure from the performance practice of the first four books, issued one disc at a time (34: 1, 34:5, 35:3, 36:2). In each of those discs, he acknowledged an alternative performance practice by using harpsichord or theorbo to accompany half of the madrigals, leaving the rest unaccompanied, as all other recordings known to me have done. In these last two books, the madrigals are all unaccompanied. I find no explanation in Longhini’s lengthy and informative notes to indicate why his practice in the first four books has not continued here.
Tempos are again an obvious measure of the difference among competing versions of these madrigals. In Book 5, the northerners, Kassiopeia (33:4) and Hilliard (35:6), take about 55 minutes in all, while among the Italians, La Venexiana (29:2) takes 64 minutes and Longhini 83 minutes. Book 6 is similar, for Kassiopeia (also 33:4) is 67 minutes, La Compagnia del madrigali (36:6) is 78 minutes, and Longhini is 100 minutes. The very first madrigal in Book 6,
Se la mia morte brami
, is exactly twice as long here as in Kassiopeia’s. I would rather hear it too slow than too fast, but note that the recent La Compagnia del Madrigale version is a moderate four minutes. So it goes for every selection, if not exactly a 2:1 ratio. To be sure, all the cited versions are listenable or better, and on the fast side the Hilliard’s Book 5 is exquisite. Choosing moderation, it may be noted that La Venexiana’s Book 4 (24:3) may be added to their Book 5 and La Compagnia’s Book 6 to encompass lovely renditions of half the total. On the other hand, do not overlook Longhini’s extensive and literate notes (in fluent translations) in each issue, treating both music and biography at considerable length.
All of the recordings cited are sung very well and recorded up close. If you started collecting Longhini, don’t hesitate to complete the set. Naxos prints texts and English translations in the booklets as well as posting them online, unlike for some of their other recent issues.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
Works on This Recording
Madrigals, Book 6 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1611; Italy
Madrigals, Book 5 by Carlo Gesualdo
Written: by 1611; Italy
Qual fora, donna, un dolce Ohime
Languisce al fin chi da la vita parte
Merce grido piangendo (version for choir): Merce grido piangendo
Poiche l'avida sete: Ma tu cagion
Se tu fuggi, io non resto
T'amo mia vita, la mia cara vita
Io parto, e non piu dissi
Io pur respiro in cosi gran dolore
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