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Carlo GESUALDO (1566-1613) Madrigals, Book 3 (Madrigali libro terzo, 1595)
Delitiae Musicae/Marco Longhini
Carmen Leoni (harpsichord)*;
rec. 27 July-1 August, 2008, Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli, Azzago,
Verona, Italy. DDD NAXOS 8.572136 [68:37]
Voi volete ch'io mora [1:34]
Moro o non moro, omai non mi negate [2:59]
Ahi, disperata vita [2:15]*
Languisco e moro [4:54]
Del bel de'bei vostri occhi [2:36]
Ahi, dispietata e cruda [3:35]
Dolce spirto d'Amore [3:31]*
Sospirava il mio core [2:52]
O mal nati messaggi [3:11]
Veggio, si, dal mio sole [2:39]
Non t'amo, o voce ingrata [2:48]*
Meraviglia d'Amore [1:23]
Ed ardo e vivo, Dolce aura gradita [1:56]
Crudelissima doglia [3:32]
Se piange, ohime [3:56]
Ancidetemi pur, grievi martiri [3:53]
Se vi miro pietosa [2:41]*
Deh, se gia fu crudele al mio [2:41]
Dolcissimo sospiro [3:52]
Donna, se m'ancidete [3:01]*
Come vivi cor mio [4:38]*
All'ombra degl'allori [4:06]*
This is the third release in a prize of a series of the madrigals by the enigmatic (and mercifully not (yet) cult) composer, Carlo Gesualdo. The first and second CDs from Naxos were favourably received on MusicWeb. So is this.
Gesualdo moved slowly but unmistakably from the conventional to the almost experimental. His later madrigals were certainly chromatic - famously dissonant at times. This third volume was published in Ferrara in 1595 by Vittorio Baldini, and reprinted three more times before 1619 in Venice. It is full of what would be surprises, if you didn't know the composer and which still shock, if you do. The texts were chosen for their impact, their images, and their ability to sustain such musical sentiments and experiences as tension, contrast, jolts from the norm and perverse or contrary reaction.
They're not gratuitously or spuriously eccentric, though. There is a logic to the way in which the emotion - usually human love and desire - is portrayed. Just what these are emotions that must be acknowledged rather than acquiesced in. Gesualdo is entering the real world of love, hurt, longing, regret. He's not reproducing a formulaic analogue thereof. This is in large part because Gesualdo, beholden to no-one because of his social and economic status, was able to choose whose poetry he wanted; not that imposed by the whims of a patron. Guarini and Arlotti figure prominently as poets; most of the rest of the twenty madrigals are anonymous. There are two tracks of works from the few secular pieces not contained in the six books of madrigals by Gesualdo which this series will eventually comprise.
Significantly, the madrigals were also published in partitura (as scores) so that such impact could be accentuated by their study. Further, it's to the advantage of listener, performer and composer that such close attention is paid to Gesualdo's music in this way: for all that he was concerned more in this third book with the pure sound of the marriage of text and song, they are so dense, intense and studied (all good qualities) that they truly repay repeated close listening. Something new, delightful, exciting and fresh will emerge each time.
Performers of this music thus have a challenge: do they present the music 'straight' with little or no expression? This would in the first place allow its strong characteristics to emerge with slightly different emphases each time and in the second avoid imposing imagined or (worse) modern sensibilities on what must have been an extraordinary aural experience at the end of the sixteenth century. Then, do they infuse it with their own studied conclusions about the stretched tempi, the pauses, the chromaticism, the dwelling on certain phrases, the tortured combinations of notes, the rich yet almost self-conscious use of the basso profundo and counter-tenor voices?
Delitiae Musicae under the expert direction of Marco Longhini have obviously thought about this very carefully. Blander would not be the way to describe some of the other versions of this collection which are available - the sprightly one on CPO 777138 by the Gesualdo Consort under Harry Van der Kamp, for instance. But the seven Italian singers - and Carmen Leoni (harpsichord) in half a dozen or so madrigals - veer without doubt towards the utterly expressive. This, just as they did in the earlier volumes of this highly collectible series from Naxos.
Importantly, their delivery decidedly avoids the mannered or indulgent. At first hearing the way they hold some notes, take a generally slow yet neither sedate nor muddy pace, and enunciate certain key syllables - especially at the end of lines - will probably pull you up short. But repeated listenings only serve to reveal the depth and the beauty of Gesualdo's achievement. Your attention is folded back into the text and the melodic development, the musical texture and power of the combination of these that Gesualdo has achieved so thoroughly, yet seemingly so effortlessly.
Also noteworthy is the variety that Gesualdo achieved - for all his dwelling on similar topics. The sequence of the madrigals as sung here is full of variety. Yet the singers plant their stamp, their professionalism, technical aplomb, expressiveness and gentle persuasion as to just how good this music is onto each madrigal in turn.
The acoustic is close and warm, intense and totally amenable to the need that we focus our full attention on every nuance, syllable and musical shade. The short booklet is informative and contains background, details of the performers as well as the texts in Italian and English translation.
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