Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa: Madrigals, Book 3
Delitiae Musicae, Marco Longhini (Conductor)
Recorded at Chiesa di San Pietro, Vincoli, Azzago, Verona (27 July- 1 August 2008) – 69’
Naxos #: 8.572136 – Booklet with essays and translations in Italian and English
“Ah, why is beauty a flower that charms the eye but pains the heart?” If one replaces “eye” with “ear” you have a perfect description of Gesualdo’s Third Book of Madrigals as recorded here by Delitiae Musicae. This verse from track number 14, “Crudelissima doglia” (Cruelest sorrow), laments an unrequited love and the resulting pain. The twenty madrigals on this disc (the last two tracks are bonuses), were composed at a dark time in the Italian prince-composer’s life. Having discovered his dear wife’s infidelity, Gesualdo murdered her out of rage. While the crime was legally considered to be one of “honor” due to his wife’s betrayal, the composer felt the need to express his very real and carnal feelings of anger and sorrow in his music.
In fact, there is a brilliant narrative arc to the entire book that is portrayed on this disc. Over the twenty madrigals we see a lover who pines for the target of his affections, is briefly accepted by his love and joyous (tracks 10-13), only to be shortly thereafter spurned and then plunged into an even deeper depth of anguish. Such tales are often the stuff of melodramatic fancy, but in this case we are presented with a real-life case in Gesualdo. It is safe to say that the musical world is the beneficiary of the composer’s torment as these unique and vivid compositions are stunningly beautiful.
In lesser-skilled hands, this music would be treacherous. It is full of subtle nuance, dramatic work coloring and temporal spaciousness, to say nothing of the vocal challenges. Delitiae Musicae, under the direction of Marco Longhini, add to their impressive catalogue of recordings and perform splendidly. In fact, the group’s musicality and intimacy of ensemble is nothing short of breathtaking. Entrances are flawless and intonation impeccable. The pieces often have rhythmless moments that are suspended in time and Delitiae Musicae achieves maximum effect in these musical canvases without a shred of artifice. Take for example track eight, “Sospirava il mio core” (My heart was sighing), in which there is a detectable pulse that fades into nothingness on the phrase “L’anima spiro!” (I give up my soul). It is a stunning and effective transition to a substantial silence leading to the second half of the song.
Such musical sensitivity matters for very little without skilled vocalists, and every member of the ensemble is outstanding. Countertenor Alessandro Carmignani sings with remarkable control. His sound is always beautiful, with a bit of cover. This obscures the intonation very slightly on cadences with his fellow singers who sing with a bit more brightness of vowel, but it is still a remarkable and pleasing instrument. The decays, glissandi and messa di voce effects are remarkably tasteful and effective. The group includes harpsichordist Carmen Leoni on seven tracks in an effective and seamless accompaniment that only adds to the group’s security of ensemble.
There is a wonderful intimacy and immediacy to this recording that reveals the vocal details and diction. The natural reverberation from the church is subtle and not at all boomy. The booklet contains a wonderful historic and musical essay by Marco Longhini as well as a promise for a recording of the fourth book of madrigals by the same forces. Given this recording’s all around excellence, it is well worth anticipating.