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Carlo GESUALDO (c.1561-1613)
Fifth Book of Madrigals for Five Voices (1611) [54:46]
Emma Kirkby (soprano); Evelyn Tubb (soprano); Mary Nichols (alto); Joseph Cornwell (tenor); Andrew King (tenor); Richard Wistreich (bass)
The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley. DDD
L’OISEAU LYRE 410 128 [54:46]

The exaggeration and mythology that gets wheeled into many discussions about Gesualdo all too often obscures the beauty and vitality of his music. Try putting aside that this music may be in any way ‘odd’ or that it should be listened to because it’s the product of a murderer. Listen instead to the lush sonorities, the tight fit of words to music and the long sinuous melodic lines that Gesualdo develops. See past the sometimes astringent twists of melody towards the usually very original thematic ideas of Gesualdo’s and note how he assigns them imaginatively to the different registers of his soloists.
One feels at times that a fresh and unselfconscious performance of the music for its own sake is needed. That’s just what this recording from a very accomplished team on top form from a quarter of a century ago truly is. Wholeheartedly recommended! It’s one in the series of Arkiv CDs, where you get a CD-R authorised by the record company at a low price with a reproduction of the original cover and back of booklet but no liner-notes.
From the first note of this CD, you hear a group of singers as if addressing you – in person; they articulate every syllable, do not linger on the infamous discordant effects, nor read too much into the other, withering lament writing. It’s music pure and simple. And all the better for it. These are splendidly inventive works; they express a range of emotions and thoughts and definitely repay careful listening. The Consort of Musicke is a group, and sings as a group, but each voice on this CD is a distinct voice in its own right too. The only other viable contender for your attention is the release from 2005 of the Fifth Book of Madrigals by La Veneziana on Glossa (920935) under Claudio Cavina; it looks as though this is to be part of a series. It’s probably more polished than the current recording. But there is certainly room for both.
Gesualdo was exploring aspects of madrigal composition at that genre’s zenith in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the fact that he was not beholden to court patronage - he had ‘independent means’ - allowed him to be more adventurous than current taste typically supported. It’s usually accepted that some of the experiments – especially in microtonality by Luzzasco Luzzaschi – taking place at the Ferrarese court (Gesualdo’s second wife was niece of Alfonso II) influenced the self-taught composer’s third and fourth book of madrigals.
But it really reached maturity - or ‘madness’, if you take the line of even so eminent a commentator as Howard Brown, whose well-respected Music In The Renaissance (ISBN: 0134000455) describes the chromaticism as ‘close to harmonic chaos’ - in this, the fifth book. It went further still in the sixth book. If for Gesualdo’s time his harmonies were ‘wayward’, the skill of modern performers singing to modern audiences who are used to dissonance is to make the music sound every bit as inviting now. The Consort of Musicke under Rooley have that skill. By singing the music carefully, without affectation and concentrating on the words, they make the experience an open and exciting one – for all the right reasons. This is a CD to enjoy and return to.
Mark Sealey
see also the article "Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, Count of Conza"


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