COMPOSERS: Carlo Gesualdo
LABELS: London Philharmonic Orchestra
ALBUM TITLE: Gesualdo
WORKS: Madrigali a cinque voci, Libro sesto
PERFORMER: Collegium Vocale Gent/ Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: LPH 024
This is the last and most famous of Gesualdo’s books of madrigals, notorious for its wayward dissonances and morbid reflections. Recordings of it are not in short supply and we have recently issued or re-issued versions by Marco Longhini and Delitiae Musicae on Naxos (spirited but untidy), Quintetto Vocale Italiano on Newton Classics (sensitive to the text but very poor tuning and sound quality), and La Compagnia del Madrigale on Glossa (superb tuning but slightly cautious speeds with some downward transpositions).
Philippe Herreweghe’s recording is an improvement on the Naxos and Newton Classics versions. In items such as Già pianse the performers demonstrate an understanding that not all of these madrigals are morbid (fewer than half mention death), and they deck out the sound with warm chords and quicksilver, joyous runs. Elsewhere there are issues of balance and blend. In Io pur respiro, for example, the piercing, tight timbre of the top soprano creates an ‘out of tune’ effect with the less focused vocal production of the bass, and the recording has clearly made attempts to place her in the background. Occasionally a lute is used to support the tuning and there are some difficulties with speed and time changes – in Tu segui the flight from the lover’s heart is presented as a breakneck sprint, and in Al mio gioir and Già pianse the brief excursions into triple time get rather lost. These performances are pleasant but not especially subtle, and the recording by La Compagnia del Madrigale remains first choice.