COMPOSERS: Carlo Gesualdo
ALBUM TITLE: Gesualdo Quinto Libro di Madrigali
WORKS: Quinto Libro di Madrigali
PERFORMER: The Hilliard Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 4764755
These pieces by Carlo Gesualdo – ‘Prince and murderer’ – were published in 1611. With their assured counterpoint and extreme harmonies they represent the pinnacle of his style. But they also pose enormous challenges for the performers: the chord changes require absolute security of tuning; the anguished words demand a sensitivity towards rhetorical and quasi-theatrical delivery; and the sometimes cluttered textures call for fine ensemble.
Few vocalists if any could match this group for their tuning. In works such as Dolcissima mia vita (with its chromatic ending and its flickering lines at the word ‘fire’), the effect is superbly assured and focused. Just occasionally the bass line runs a little flat. When it comes to the words, it may be that these singers are too North European to capture the erotic drama of the texts. ‘Correte, amanti’ needs an urgent, breathless tone, rather than neat ‘choir-school’ control, and the word ‘sospire’ in ‘Itene o miei’ really does need to sigh. Even so, there are some fine tracks, and the exquisitely searing high voice of Monika Mauch makes an unforgettable entry in ‘Languisce al fin’. La Venexiana has also recorded this collection (on Glossa); the tuning is slightly less good, but the text delivery is better.