Gesualdo: Madrigali

Madrigali a cinque voci, Selections from Libro V and VI
EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble
W&W 910 259-2

This ensemble of six singers, directed by Durham University-based composer James Weeks, normally concentrates on contemporary music but here they bring their wealth of experience to bear on a selection of eighteen Gesualdo madrigals, chosen from across his fifth and sixth books. Probably composed in Ferrara in the mid-1590s, Gesualdo paid meticulous attention to setting the text, with quick changes of texture and harmony which at times last for just seconds before being replaced. This is brought out particularly strongly in this excellent recording which shows striking levels of vocal virtuosity and a wider range of vocal colours than other recordings of this repertory. These singers are not afraid of dissonance, nor of making listeners squirm before releasing them with a harmonic resolution, however temporary. Occasionally the soprano is a bit prominent but overall tuning is just on the right side of extreme and resolutions, when they come, are beautifully executed. The singers show great confidence in maneouvring around Gesualdo’s harmonic shifts and have a highly-informed understanding of the text, nowhere more than in O dolorosa gioia, o soave dolore (O painful joy, O sweet suffering) whose text could sum up the whole programme. Recording quality is excellent with particularly clear separation between the speakers. It is worth listening with music in hand (it is freely available on the CPDL website): like the madrigals themselves these are performances for Gesualdo connoisseurs and are highly recommended.

Noel O’Regan

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