Let me tell you
Stratospheric Barbara Hannigan
Birmingham and BBC Proms
One to treasure
One of the
Book and CD
Book + 4CDs
Carlo GESUALDO (c.1561-1613) Fifth Book of Madrigals for Five Voices (1611)
(soprano); Evelyn Tubb (soprano); Mary Nichols (alto);
Joseph Cornwell (tenor); Andrew King (tenor); Richard
The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley. DDD L’OISEAU
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"
from previous months Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the
discs reviewed. details We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to
which you refer.