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David Vernier
ClassicsToday.com, June 2011

We last encountered the 6-voice Italian male ensemble Delitiae Musicae in its series of Monteverdi madrigals for Naxos…And it’s clear after spending a few minutes with this first volume of the group’s planned 6-disc traversal of Carlo Gesualdo’s works in the same genre that Delitiae Musicae truly owns this repertoire.

Although certainly not devoid of chromaticism and hints of Gesualdo’s later ventures into sometimes bizarre harmonic territory, these works are overall more conventional in their expressive techniques—but what expression and what techniques! You won’t hear more effectively written musical representations of the passion, pain, longing, or other of love’s emotions portrayed in the poetic texts (primarily by Torquato Tasso) from any composer of the period, and these native singers understand the language—both written and musical—better than any other ensemble on disc. (Highlights begin at the opening two tracks—“Baci soavi e cari” Parts One and Two—and continue through another two-part madrigal near the program’s end—“Felice primavera!”)

The nuances of dynamics and phrasing—not to mention the exceptional breath control and intonation—show an ensemble, like the music’s composer, working at the highest artistic level. You may not want to listen to all 20 of these pieces at one sitting, and the sound brings the voices just a bit too close in some places—a particular voice suddenly jumps out from the ensemble—but there’s no doubt as to the pleasure you’ll experience in hearing this music sung as it should be sung.



Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Few composers have so fascinated the music world as Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. Part of the interest has been generated by his remarkable life, especially the fact that he once murdered his wife and her lover. Musically speaking the madrigals he composed in the latter stages of his life have drawn the interest of performers and audiences as well as composers of a much later era. Among the latter is Igor Stravinsky who composed a Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa, based on three of his madrigals. The late madrigals are collected in the fifth and sixth book, and move far away from the musical mainstream of his time. Until the end of his life Gesualdo stayed away from the seconda prattica and the use of a basso continuo. In his application of dissonances and chromaticism he goes further than any composer of his time.

In comparison his early madrigals are much more moderate and conventional. That is probably the main reason they haven’t received as much attention as the later works. The first two madrigal books were published in the same year: 1594. They were presented as a compilation Gesualdo had published previously. Unfortunately none of these have been preserved. So it is impossible to assess how exactly Gesualdo has developed. The first two books certainly don’t present him as a student. These are mature works in which the texts are effectively expressed with the musical means of the time. Although there are some dissonances in a number of madrigals, Gesualdo doesn’t go to extremes in regard to harmony as in his later madrigals.

In the first book he uses texts by famous poets, like Giovanni Battista Guarini and Torquato Tasso. Several of these were also set to music by other composers of his time, for instance Claudio Monteverdi and Luca Marenzio. Gesualdo seems to have had a special liking for gloomy subjects. That is not only reflected in his madrigals, but also in his motets. It is notable, though, that the first book ends with five madrigals of a more joyful character. The titles are telling: Bella angioletta (Beautiful little angel), Felice primavera! (Happy Spring!) and Danzan le ninfe oneste (The honest nymphs and shepherds dance). Compare these with titles of madrigals like Come esser può ch’io viva (How can it be that I live), O dolce mio martire (O sweet torment of mine) or Gelo ha madonna il seno (My lady has ice in her breast).

After having completed the recording of the madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi the ensemble Delitiae Musicae have started a project to record all six books of madrigals by Gesualdo. Marco Longhini’s interpretation is quite unusual in several respects. To begin with, he consistently uses only male voices in his madrigal recordings. This means that the male alto Alessandro Carmignani who takes the upper part has to sing at the top of his range most of the time. He manages to do so quite well, but now and then his voice does sound a little stressed.

Historically this practice may be defensible, two other features of this interpretation are questionable. Firstly, the frequent tempo fluctuations which are often extreme and sound unnatural to my ears. At the last line of the first madrigal, Baci soavi e cari, the music almost comes to a standstill. Secondly, the use of crescendi and diminuendi. This is an interpretational device which rather belongs to the seconda prattica which was introduced in the early 17th century. But in these madrigals it seems hardly appropriate.

In three of the madrigals the harpsichord plays colla voce. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this practice nor do I understand why it is used in these particular madrigals. Musically it is unsatisfying and damages the performance. In several madrigals the last line has to be repeated, and the ensemble takes mostly too long a pause before doing so. This becomes a bit annoying after a while. It is probably meant to increase the drama, but it doesn’t.

It is these mannerisms that raise my scepticism about this new recording. The singers of Delitiae Musicae are excellent, and I certainly have enjoyed much of what they do. But there are just too many questionable aspects, and because of that I can only approach this disc with considerable caution.



Johan van Veen
musica Dei donum, November 2010

Few composers have so fascinated the music world as Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. Part of the interest has been generated by his remarkable life, especially the fact that he once murdered his wife and her lover. Musically speaking the madrigals he composed in the latter stages of his life have raised the interest of performers and audiences as well as composers of a much later era. Among the latter is Igor Stravinsky who composed a Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa, based on three of his madrigals. The late madrigals are collected in the fifth and sixth book, and move far away from the musical mainstream of his time. Until the end of his life Gesualdo stayed away from the seconda prattica and the use of a basso continuo. In his application of dissonances and chromaticism he goes further than any composer of his time.

In comparison his early madrigals are much more moderate and conventional. That is probably the main reason they haven’t received as much attention as the later works. The first two madrigal books were published in the same year: 1594. They were presented as a compilation of madrigals Gesualdo had published previously. Unfortunately none of these have been preserved. So it is impossible to assess how exactly Gesualdo has developed as a composer of madrigals. The first two books certainly don’t show a composer who is still in a learning process. These are mature works in which the texts are effectively expressed with the musical means of the time. Although there are some dissonances in a number of madrigals, Gesualdo doesn’t go into extremes in regard to harmony as in his later madrigals.

In the first book he uses texts by famous poets, like Giovanni Battista Guarini and Torquato Tasso. Several of these were also set to music by other composers of his time, for instance Claudio Monteverdi and Luca Marenzio. Gesualdo seems to have had a special liking for gloomy texts. That is not only reflected by his madrigals, but by his motets as well. It is notable, though, that the first book ends with five madrigals of a more joyful character. The titles are telling: Bella angioletta (Beautiful little angel), Felice primavera! (Happy Spring!) and Danzan le ninfe oneste (The honest nymphs and shepherds dance). Compare these with titles of madrigals like Come esser può ch’io viva (How can it be that I live), O dolce mio martire (O sweet torment of mine) or Gelo ha madonna il seno (My lady has ice in her breast).

After having completed the recording of the madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi the ensemble Delitiae Musicae have started a project to record all six books of madrigals by Gesualdo. Marco Longhini’s interpretation is quite unusual in several respects. To begin with, he consistently uses only male voices in his madrigal recordings. This means that the male alto Alessandro Carmignani who takes the upper part has to sing at the top of his range most of the time. He manages to do so quite well, but now and then his voice does sound a little stressed.

Historically this practice may be defensible, two other features of this interpretation are questionable. Firstly, the frequent tempo fluctuations which are often extreme and sound unnatural to my ears. At the last line of the first madrigal, Baci soavi e cari, the music almost comes to a standstill. Secondly, the use of crescendi and diminuendi. This is a interpretational device which rather belongs to the seconda prattica which was introduced in the early 17th century. But in these madrigals it seems hardly appropriate.

In three of the madrigals the harpsichord plays colla voce. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this practice nor do I understand why it is used in these particular madrigals. Musically it is unsatisfying and damages the performance. In several madrigals the last line has to be repeated, and the ensemble takes mostly too long a pause before doing so. This becomes a bit annoying after a while. It is probably meant to increase the drama, but it doesn’t.

It is these mannerisms that raise my scepticism about this new recording. The singers of Delitiae Musicae are excellent, and I certainly have enjoyed much of what they do. But there are just too many questionable issues in these interpretations, and because of that I can only recommend this disc with considerable caution.



Catherine Moore
American Record Guide, September 2010

As you will learn from the review of Werner Herzog’s film Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices (Arthaus102055) many music experts over the past three centuries have described the music of Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) as illwrought, un-singable, and just plain bad. Fortunately for us, several modern vocal ensembles have not shied away from the music, and there are now several very fine recordings of the madrigals, and three complete cycles are underway. Noted for their series of Monteverdi madrigals, Delitiae Musicae begins its complete cycle with this release.

In the very fine booklet essay director Marco Longhini sets Book 1 in the context of Gesualdo’s career, noting that all of the first four books—a total of 80 madrigals published from 1594–96 in Ferrara—are mature works gathered together to demonstrate the composer’s mastery of the genre. One result of this is that there is plenty of opportunity in Book 1 for the singers to tackle different themes, moods, and affects: longing, torment, a little angel, death, and release among them.

‘Gelo Ha Madonna In Seno’ (Ice Fills My Lady’s Breast) opens fittingly with “frozen” chords, then shivering counterpoint sections. The ending of ‘Ahi, Troppo Saggio’ is a sustained discord. In several madrigals, silence plays a role in and between voice parts. Silence is particularly hard to perform, and here there is never a lag in momentum. Instead, the silences are part of the music, not spaces between musical sections: they have motion and energy of their own. This all-male ensemble sings most of Book 1 a cappella, but in two madrigals the voices are joined by harpsichord: in ‘Amor, Pace Non Chero’ it is like a simultaneous passeggiato version of the madrigal, with rolling chords and flourishes accompanying and framing the vocal center; in ‘Felice Primavera’ (and its second parte, ‘Danzan Le Ninfe Oneste’) the harpsichord takes a different role, adding sparkle to the dance.

The ensemble is very tight, individual voices are clear, but very well matched, and the give and take of the pulse is superbly crafted by Longhini. To do this music at all an ensemble must have experience, discipline, and practice; to perform it at the highest level the additional gifts of expression, style, heartfelt pulse, and imagination are essential. I look forward to future releases in this series.



J. F. Weber
Fanfare, September 2010

If I could have just one set of these madrigals, I have no doubt that I would want to hear the songs spun out as broadly as they are done here. Chromaticism cannot be rushed, and the mannerist style of the turn of the 17th century, which reached its peak in Gesualdo, can absorb every bit of the attention Longhini provides. Since he seems to have fulfilled his promise of a complete set of Monteverdi’s madrigals (not all issued yet), we can expect more discs in this series as well.



Mark Sealey
Classical Net, July 2010

This as usual well-priced hour’s worth on Naxos, though, makes an attractively stylish alternative: the recording takes Gesualdo’s music on its own terms. They see no need to play up the extraordinary nature of Gesualdo, or his harmonies etc. Rather, Longhini and his five male singers have placed the totality of this music squarely in the tradition of Italian Renaissance music. The result here is a compelling, melodious and satisfying blend of words and music that can stand its own with other exponents of the genre.

The CD comes with an informative essay on the music and its background. All the texts are presented, in Italian with English translations. The acoustic is close yet far from claustrophobic. We should eagerly await further volumes in this series.



Dianne Wells
The WholeNote, July 2010

…this group does a superb job of conveying the sweet and painful longings inherent in texts by Guarini and Tasso made ever so much more excruciating by Gesualdo’s dissonances, chromaticism and quick tonal discombobulations. The group’s purity of tone and precise intonation ensures that these turns are well articulated and deeply understood.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

The reputation of the Italian composer, Carlo Gesualdo, has largely resided in his last three books of madrigals, the present release forming part of his complete works in the genre. In the 16th century it would not have been fitting for the Italian Prince of Venosa to be involved in the publication of music he had composed for his own amusement, and he initially used the name of another for that purpose. Their appearance at the time seems to have caused interest in musicians of the day who saw them as playing a major role in late Renaissance music. But it was for other reasons that Gesualdo became widely known, when he apparently murdered his gorgeous wife and her lover when discovered in bed together. It was to have a profound effect on his life, and he eventually retired to his castle at Gesualdo, music being his escape from melancholy. That he was a truly gifted composer who searched out new harmonies and changes of key to colour his music is evident in this lesser-known first book of madrigals…That they were issued in books does not confer a date of composition as they were simply collections from previous years, but he had certainly cultivated a style that runs through the first book, the words often of an erotic nature. They are performed by the Italian-based group, Delitiæ Musicæ, under their conductor, Marco Longhini. Specialists in this era, the eight voices have the individual timbre largely created by the male alto. Diction is immaculate, and the balance of voices is so perfectly weighted. In editing it appears a fraction of a note has been shaved off the opening of track 17, but with a promised further six Gesualdo CDs from this source, it is a mouth-watering prospect.



Blair Sanderson
Allmusic.com, April 2010

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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