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Carlo GESUALDO (c.1566-1613)/Ascanio MAIONE (c.1565-1627)
Tribulationem
see end of review for track listing
Concerto Soave/Jean-Marc Aymes (also organ and harpsichord)
Mara Galassi (harp)
rec. 3-7 September 2012, Église Évangélique, Allemande, Paris; 7-11 October 2012, Abbey of Saint-Michel-en-Thierache
ZIG ZAG TERRITOIRES ZZT319 [51:26 + 67:50]

Writing as I am at almost exactly the date of Carlo Gesualdo’s death - which occurred 400 years ago in early September 1613 - I feel a strong sense of his spirit in this new CD. It offers us an opportunity to overview some aspects of his extensive output.
 
In the neat box there are two discs and a booklet with a wide-ranging essay by Concerto Soave’s director Jean-Marc Aymes. All texts are supplied with good, approachable translations. The Prince of Venosa is represented by both sacred and secular pieces and is pitted alongside an underrated contemporary who concentrated on instrumental works and was well known at the time as a great improviser, Ascanio Maione.
 
Disc 1 contains seven pieces by Maione from his Second book ‘Di Diversi Capricci per Sonare’, published in Naples in 1609. These are played by a combination of harp, harpsichord and organ. The Gesualdo pieces are purely sacred and taken from three separate collections, one for five voices and another for six, both published in Naples, one in 1603 and the other in 1611. The booklet makes it quite clear which motet comes from which collection. Amongst the masterpieces that have almost become part of the repertoire there is O Vos Omnes for five voices and Ecce Videmus Eum for six.
 
With Disc 2 the Gesualdo items are solely concentrated on the composer’s last most extreme book of madrigals, the sixth of 1611. Again the seven instrumental items are from Maione’s second book.
 
One immediately striking thing about the vocal performances is the use throughout of an accompanying instrument. There’s a harpsichord for the madrigals - Aymes has two different ones at his disposal: one for solo pieces and one for the voices. A harp is employed in the sacred works. It seems, by the way, that Gesualdo was a fine player of the chittarone or theorbo and may have accompanied his own performers. Even as long ago as 1988 ‘Les Arts Florissants’ did just that - not always throughout each madrigal, however - under William Christie (HM901268). There, the harp, and appropriately the theorbo or lyrone are sensitively employed. Whereas the Italian group ‘La Venexiana’ in say Gesualdo’s Fourth book (Glossa 920907) and the Kassiopeia Quintet in their complete recordings for Globe never use instrumental support. A professional singer recently commented to me that, as the “madrigals were so difficult to tune with their almost illogical harmonic progressions then instrumental support was considered obligatory”. I accept that this is not the case with Concerto Soave.
 
There is a difference in language used by Gesualdo in both sacred and secular works but it is subtle. Madrigal composers had to find a way of unifying words and music. In the madrigals Gesualdo wants to paint every line separately or even each word and yet wants to keep an overall logic but in a sort of Fantasia form. Only about a quarter of his surviving music is sacred and in this genre, although the harmonies can be as challenging and as extreme, there is more of a sense of continuity. Even so, ideas can often be repeated as are the words but this only occasionally happens in the madrigals, and that comment certainly applies to those found in this, the last book. For this reviewer it’s the sacred music however which is found to be the most remarkable and moving.
 
Maione’s instrumental works are remarkably varied as shown here. Some, like the brilliant Canzona Francesca Terza are played purely on the harpsichord, the Toccata Seconda completely on the harp. Others like the Recercar sopra il Canto Fermo di Constanza Festa are played by the organ - sustaining the cantus firmus - and by the harp playing the passagio or divisions. Also on disc one we hear the curious Toccata Quarte per il Cembalo Cromatico. As Aymes tells us in the notes, this was for an instrument, partially reconstructed here, for which, for example, a D sharp is not quite the same pitch as its enharmonic equivalent, an E flat. To our ears there may be a sense of being ‘out of tune’. Speaking of Toccatas, the Toccata Prima on disc two seems to be more of a florid baroque work pointing forward stylistically to Johann Froberger (1616-1667).
 
In the case of Io Mi Son giovanetta we are offered diminutions (the same as divisions) cleverly in the style of Maione himself and also of one Scipione Stella and Domenico Montella. These are divided between the harpsichord and harp. All of these men lived alongside each other and also knew the Netherlander Giovanni de Macque (d.1614) who was Gesualdo’s teacher.
 
All of the performances are very attractive, the instrumentalists especially so. They are meticulously neat in the complex passage work. On the downside, the singers, although beautifully well balanced and having clear diction, just lack that little extra bite and attack. This is to be lamented when these very qualities seem to be most crucial as in some of the madrigals like Tu piangi, O filli. Perhaps the overly closely miked harpsichord does not help.
 
We are also offered in addition a brief nod in the direction of Stravinsky in one of his ‘Three Gesualdo Motets’ of 1960.
 
This is a fitting tribute to Carlo Gesualdo and puts this flawed but arguably great composer into more of a context than we are usually able to find.
 
Gary Higginson 


Track listing
Gesualdo
Tribulationem et Dolorem [3.07]
O Vos Omnes [2.29]
Ecce Videmus a sei voce [6.09]
Recercar del Decimo Tono [5.17]
Ave Dulcissima Maria [3.30]
Venit Lumen Tuum [2.07]
Peccantem me qutidie [3.51]
Da Pacem Domine (compl. Stravinsky) [2.09]
Maione
Recercar Sopra il Canto Firmo di Constanza Festa [1.53]
Recercar del Decimo Tono [5.17]
Recercar Del Decimo Tono [5.17]
Canzona Francesca Terz [2.47]
Recercar sopra il canto firmo di Constanzo Festa per l’arpa [4.07]
Toccata Seconda [4.39]
Toccata quarte per il cembalo cromatico [4.13]
Gesualdo
Moro, lasso, al mio duolo [3.30]
Mille volte il di [3.23]
Alma d’amor Rubelle [1.57]
Ardite Zanzaretta [3.04]
Tu Piangi, O filli [3.28]
Gia Piansi nel dolore [2.34]
Deh, come invan sospiro [3.12]
Maione
Toccata quinta per il cembalo cromatico [4.46]
Io mi son Giovanetta, diminuito da stella, Montella e Maione [4.53]
Toccata Prima [3.47]
Canzona Francesca Prima [2.18]
Partita sopra il tenore antico, O Romanesca [14.37]
Recercar del Quarto tono [4.26]

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