Gesualdo: Madrigals, Book 1by Marco Longhini
The first volume in Delitiæ Musicæ's series of the complete madrigals of Don Carlo Gesualdo is a promising beginning for the project, for the singers -- countertenors Alessandro Carmignani and Paolo Costa, tenors Fabio Fùrnari and Paolo Fanciullacci, baritone Marco Scavazza, and bass Walter Testolin, under the direction of Marco Longhini -- have the right attributes for this music. The utter clarity of their voices is essential for understand the winding counterpoint that is characteristic of Gesualdo's mannerist style, and the steadiness of their intonation is crucial to conveying the plangent cross-relations and odd chromatic shifts that are features of these works. Gesualdo's music is intensely expressive of the dark and painful emotions, whether of love, as portrayed in the madrigals, or of faith, as in his sacred motets. In the madrigals, the subjects of beauty and desire are inextricably bound up with suffering and death, and Gesualdo is adept at shifting moods from rapture to misery with rapidity. The sudden changes in rhythms and tempos also contribute to the emotional instability, and Delitiæ Muicæ's unity of expression and steady control help keep the music coherent and within the bounds of communicable feeling. Naxos provides clean and close-up sound, so the group has real presence, and the soft resonance of the acoustics gives dimension to the voices without blurring them.
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Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo's life story is prime for a Hollywood film (besides the Werner Herzog pseudo-documentary). Although his music is mysterious and hauntingly beautiful, he is also known (and perhaps mostly) for ordering the murders of his first wife, Maria d'Avalos, and her lover. This act sent him into self-imposed exile, and may have been a strong contributing factor to the darkness of his compositions. Delitiæ Musicæ, having recorded the complete madrigals of Monteverdi, have now begun a survey of the complete madrigals of Gesualdo. Under the direction of Marco Longhini, this disc of the First Book of Madrigals (1594) offers Gesualdo's eccentric views on love and death with clear articulation and good use of vocal blending. Instrumental accompaniment (harpsichord) is spare, allowing the focus to center on the voices. An excellent start to the series!
The Italian nobleman Carlo Gesualdo was a late-Renaissance composer, lutenist, harpsichordist, and guitarist. Little is known of his early life. Gesualdo is famous for two things: his highly expressive madrigals, which use a chromatic language not heard again until the 19th century; and for the cold-blooded murders of his first wife and her lover. Even when young, he was passionately devoted to music and showed little interest in anything else. In 1586 he married his first cousin, Donna Maria d'Avalos, daughter of the Marquis of Pescara, who began an affair in 1588 with Fabrizio Carafa, Duke of Andria. Even though the affair was well-known, she somehow concealed it from her husband for almost two years. After hearing of the affair, Gesualdo feigned departure on a hunting trip; with help from servants, he returned at night, butchered the pair in her bed, and publicly displayed the mutilated bodies outside his castle. Though immune from prosecution, he feared revenge, so fled from Gesualdo, near Naples, to Ferrara, then an Italian center of progressive musical activity. He married again, returned to his castle at Gesualdo in 1595, and became a recluse. In later life, he became chronically depressed. Between 1594 and 1611, Gesualdo composed six books of madrigals. This CD contains Book 1, written in 1594, when Gesualdo was in Ferrara. All are for five voices. The singing is exemplary and the recording is crystal-clear; this CD is warmly recommended for lovers of the late Renaissance era. Ted Wilks