Carlo GESUALDO (1566-1613)
Madrigals Book 4
Luci serene e chiare [4:56]
Tal'hor sano desio [3:51]
Io tacero, ma nel silenzio mio [4:03]
Invan, dunque, o crudele [3:40]
Che fai meco, mio cor [2:40]
Questa crudele e pia [4:45]
Hor che in gioia [1:19]
O sempre crudo amore [3:35]
Cor mio, deh, non piangete [2:13]
Dunque non m'offendete [2:35]
Toccata del quarto tono [2:48]
Sparge la morte al mio Signor [7:27]
Moro, e mentre sospiro [2:08]
Quando di lui la sospirata vita [1:54]
Mentre gira costei [2:35]
A voi, mentre il mio core [3:03]
Ecco, morirò dunque [2:06]
Ahi, gia mi discoloro [3:05]
Arde il mio cor [3:53]
Se chiudete nel core [2:22]
Il sol qual or più splende [1:26]
Volgi mia luce [2:33]
Delitiæ Musicæ/Marco Longhini
rec. 20-24 July 2009, Chiesa di San Pietro in Vincoli Azzago, Verona, Italy. DDD
NAXOS 8.572137 [68:57]
Just listen to the variations in tempi and dynamic of Luci serene e chiare. It’s the first track of this fourth volume in the excellent series of Gesualdo's madrigals from Delitiæ Musicæ under Marco Longhini on Naxos. To hear this is to appreciate how effective care and attention to every nuance should be when singing what is often seen as a dark corner of the Renaissance vocal repertoire.
It goes on that way: the six singers and keyboard player (Carmen Leoni) treat every piece by the usually only anthologised Gesualdo as its own gem. They approach each madrigal almost as if it were Gesualdo's only one. This could, admittedly, lead to a laboured and self-conscious style. It doesn't. The Italian group's familiarity with and obvious love of Gesualdo's world sees to that.
Instead, our response is anticipation for each next madrigal while thoroughly savouring the particularities of the one we're listening to. In a way this helps to create an understanding of the corpus of this aspect of Gesualdo's output … two more CDs from Naxos - to whom Delitiæ Musicæ is under exclusive contract - and the cycle will be complete.
The composer's Fourth Book of madrigals was published in Ferrara in 1596 and quickly achieved several further printings - including one in 1613 in Genova in partitura - a rare occurrence enabling singers to experience the music 'horizontally', line by musical line.
This Fourth Book was intended as a kind of atonement for the composer's (conviction for the) murder of his first wife, Donna Maria d'Avalos in 1590. In the Kingdom of Naples a husband had such a legal right in the case of infidelity. But, although Gesualdo faced no punishment from the legal system, he was ostracised and marginalised by his own community. What Longhini - who also produced the 'Urtext Edition' for these recordings - and his singers have achieved so well is a convincing set of performances. This graciously and genuinely blurs any distinction that we might make four hundred years later between heartfelt remorse on Gesualdo's part and what the Renaissance poet, playwright and composer was able to make using events from life as material for art.
In a way the tone, the weeping, the dourness, the (self-)deploring, above all the self-doubt must be taken as starting points for this beautiful and affecting music - not as something to be expressed in and by it. The creativity, the tight and effective matching of texts (mostly anonymous and by Guarini) to tonality and texture are what matter. They stand on their own. That's the approach which these performers so successfully take.
At the heart of the set is what at first sight appears a misfit: Sparge la morte al mio Signor [tr.12], the longest piece here at almost seven and a half minutes. In fact to transfer the remorse to images of the unjustly (with ambivalences) murdered Christ illuminates the complexity of Gesualdo's thinking in these works. The suggestion is clear … alongside remorse and torment should come forgiveness and some sort of 'settlement'. Indeed by the time we get to Arde il mio cor [tr.19], the darkness has lifted somewhat, though Delitiæ Musicæ's tempi are still slow, if a little less deliberate. Although those resounding bass notes of Walter Testolin are held for just as long and are as chilling, there is a sense of hope. Certainly the remaining three pieces look upward and let light in.
Nevertheless, overall we're not allowed to forget the trauma, the potential for trauma, the torment represented by (secular) love, and the totality of a soul so affected when subjected to such searing and unrelenting self-examination. Not once do the singers lay the mud or paste on too thickly. Nor do they overlook the innovative nature of the sonic impact of the poetry … dissonance, distortion, a little interruption of the metrical line and much expressive, more easily-flowing consonance between text, harpsichord and song. You can hear this in the fittingly final Il sol qual or piu splende [tr.22]. While the phrase 'tour de force' would be wrong because it would suggest the need for a more mighty and strenuous push than is necessary here, the achievement of Longhini with Delitiæ Musicæ is a considerable one.
Their tone is just right from first to last, their articulation, emphases and sense of seriousness yet neither drab nor spuriously sparkling are indeed delightful. There is, to be sure, little of the lighthearted and springing qualities which we often associate with some madrigals. The purpose and drive behind these interpretations makes them hugely successful.
The booklet that comes with the CD has useful background - particularly to the killing and its subsequent effect on Gesualdo. It contains all the texts in Italian with English translation. The acoustic is clear and not too resonant, though full of intensity in atmosphere. If you've already been attracted to this excellent series, don't hesitate to add this to the collection. It's also a convincing and sensitive enough set of performances to encourage you to start and explore the lot. The Fifth Book is eagerly awaited.
Mark Sealey
Stylish, convincing, profound and lovely performances. Buy it! 

Reviews of other releases in this series
Book 1 Book 2 Book 3