Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

J. F. Weber
Fanfare, May 2011

The first disc in this series held out promise of a more relaxed interpretation of the mannerist madrigals that Don Carlo Gesualdo created. This time a harpsichord is added in five of the 20 pieces. The composer’s two surviving instrumental works are bonus tracks, the familiar Canzon francese del Principe as a clavichord solo and the Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa with a gamba consort. Marco Longhini’s way with this dense music is remarkable, quite a contrast to the northern European approach, more relaxed in unfolding the word-settings. Longhini makes it clear that the first two books belong together, two volumes of madrigals composed together and published almost simultaneously. He points out that one of these madrigals has a text by Alfonso d’Avalos, the grandfather of Gesualdo’s ill-fated first wife.

This series promises to be rewarding. The next two discs have already been recorded and numbers assigned to them, no doubt to whet our appetites. This set can be judged without reference to the price advantage that it enjoys. Hence the strong recommendation to pick up Longhini’s series as fast as they appear.

John W Barker
American Record Guide, May 2011

Having recorded all of Monteverdi’s madrigals save Book VIII, the all-male vocal consort of Delitiae Musicae has not committed itself to a complete traversal of the less varied, more concentrated madrigal output of Carlo Gesualdo, Principe di Venosa. Their Book I is already out (570548), and Book III (572136) is soon to appear.

Book II was published in 1594, just after Book I. These collections show Gesualdo achieving full technical mastery of the established Italian madrigal idiom. He avoids some of the “mannerist” devices identified with Luca Marenzio, and he is not yet ready to move into the even more bizarre mannerism of his later books, for which he is notorious. But even these earlier madrigals he invests with suggestions of unsettling emotion beneath the surface.

Longhini and his six singers seem to find further need to darken the music, going beyond just discreet downward transpositions. Theirs are heavily freighted readings, in slow tempos. The close and surgical clarity of the recording seems only to emphasize the distinctness and separateness of the singers’ voices, often at the expense of well-controlled ensemble balances. I have to say that the higher of their two countertenors stands out to a sometimes irritating degree.

Admirers of this composer and his extraordinary music will want to follow all “complete” recordings that comes along. And Longhini does toss in a little extra treat in this volume by including two instrumental pieces attributed to Gesualdo. One, a Gagliarda, has been recorded before on harpsichord or organ: here it is played by a quartet of viols. The other, a ‘Canzon Francese’, is delivered, with much understatement, on a clavichord.

Fine notes, full texts and translations.

Fabrice Fitch
Gramophone, February 2011

An early volume of Gesualdo madrigals augurs well for a distinctive set

Like its predecessor, Gesualdo’s Second Book of Madrigals bears only hints of what was to follow in the composer’s output. For that reason, it hasn’t been recorded as much as the later volumes; and yet there have already been fine readings by two Dutch ensembles, Gesualdo Consort of Amsterdam (CPO, 2/06) and the Kassiopeia Quintet (Globe—as part of a complete set). Delitæ Musicæ are also embarked on a complete series, and judging by the first two volumes, it will be as distinctive as their complete Monteverdi madrigal cycle. In reviewing the latter’s Sixth Book, I remarked on the challenges to balance and voicing posed by this ensemble’s use of countertenors on the top line or lines. My concerns there still seem warranted, particularly in view of the occasionally strained timbre of the top voice (try the second piece, “Ma se tale ha costei”); however, I’ve found myself warming to the overall approach, which is relaxed and unhurried. This, combined with the ensemble’s sound, securely underpinned by Walter Testolin’s bass, allows points of detail to tell (for example, final or sectional cadences) that might otherwise be skated over.

In some madrigals the voices are joined by a harpsichordist, who improvises links between sections in the etiolated manner reminiscent of Sergio Vartolo. Carmen Leoni is are more persuasive in Gesualdo’s only surviving keyboard piece, here done on a clavichord, which has been recorded at exactly the right dynamic level in relation to the voices elsewhere. No disrespect intended to a fine recording when I nominate this “bonus track” as my favourite of the disc. Roll on Book 3.

Mark Sealey
MusicWeb International, January 2011

This is beautiful, intense yet measured music sung beautifully, idiomatically and with spirit and spontaneity by Delitiæ Musicæ. Their conductor Marco Longhini, also prepared the text and score for this, the second CD from Naxos in a series of the madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa. This Book was published in 1594 and contains almost two dozen short—none from the main body of the Book is much longer than four minutes—pieces with a relatively restricted range of melodic, tonal and textual sentiments and exploration.

For all Gesualdo’s famed experiments with tonality and near dissonance, there is a stately, somewhat conservative, ‘safe’ feel to the music throughout the hour of music presented here by the respected Italian early music specialist group. They’re on ground less well-trodden that that occupied by the last three Books of Gesualdo’s six in particular. And accordingly there’s a respect, though hardly any undue caution or reticence, on the part of Delitiæ Musicæ in order—it seems—to expose the music as simply as possible.

“Let’s not approach it,” they seem to be urging, “as the rantings of an uxoricide and musical iconoclast who styled his persona in Renaissance melancholy and self-indulgence.” Rather, their style recognises this gentle, communicative, very human marriage of text and song—and instrumental accompaniment or solo playing in half a dozen or so of the tracks—for what it is. That’s music which is undemonstrative yet full of feeling; which follows accepted praxes yet is fresh and penetrating; and which is completely able to carry full feelings without relying on effect or novelty.

The performers have clearly absorbed these madrigals’ many qualities successfully; one waits in keen anticipation for the later Books in the series. It would perhaps have been better for Naxos to have released a double set of Books I and II since they were both published at almost the same time. What’s more, certain madrigals both from this and the earlier release (Book I, Naxos 8.570548—see review) are in (presumably) two parts but one or the other only is to be heard each time. To compensate, the music is of sufficient weight and drive for us to find each piece wholly satisfying.

Gesualdo was able to squeeze from his authors’ poetry just as much as he needed for each madrigal—or, indeed, each type of madrigal—to make its impact. He never pulled the texts too thin. Interestingly, only Tasso, Guarini and Alfonso d’Avalos—the grandfather of Gesualdo’s first wife, who was also his cousin—have been positively identified as having provided texts for the composer.

They’re secular texts, distilled, intense and minimal. Yet for the maximum impact and enjoyment they require just the delicacy and sensitivity which these six singers (two countertenors, two tenors, baritone and bass) bring to the music. Their stylishness clearly extends to humour and awareness of the oddities of Gesualdo’s existence, and his art. Yet the singers are never tempted to mock or distance themselves from it and its reputation. For the most part, they could be performing it for the first time. There are even some appropriately rough (not ragged) round the edges passages when syllables and timing take on a life of their own in the interests of realism.

Books III and IV are already in the works: the liner notes (which contain the full texts of Book II in Italian and English) refer to Naxos 8.572136/7. That’s when the fireworks will begin; harmonic lines will squirm and chordal writing will stretch. Until then, this Book II, while it sees no need to keep any lids on, is unhistrionic and dour. Which is just what the music needs. The acoustic is close and helpful to the music.

It makes every sense to work through Gesualdo’s madrigals as much in sequence as is possible in order to arrive at a good understanding of his world. Buy Book I and now Book II while waiting for III and IV, it is to be hoped in 2011 on the current release schedule. You will not be disappointed.

Edward Ortiz
Sacramento Bee, December 2010

Renaissance composer, lutenist and murderer Carlo Gesualdo published six books of madrigals, and on this disc we get 20 madrigals from his second. These madrigals are the works of a brilliant, confident but troubled musician. After all, Gesualdo was reportedly deeply remorseful about killing his wife and her lover when these madrigals were written. Here, shocking chromaticism plays with the simmer of subtle simplicity. The instrumental and vocal ensemble Delitiae Musicae gives a striking performance of this intimate and expressive music. Includes Gesualdo’s two instrumental compositions.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Both books of Madrigals were published in 1594, ostensibly without Carlo Gesualdo’s permission, as it would have been unseemly for the Prince of Venosa to be ‘working’ as a composer. How he gained his musical education to this level is unclear, but he composed for his own amusement, initially using a pseudonym to hide his identity. It was the books of madrigals that brought him to the attention of fellow musicians who saw him as a major composer in late Renaissance music. The works handed down would indeed show him as a gifted composer and one who was truly gifted in his desire to experiment, particularly in key changes that bring different moods to his works. This second book contains twenty madrigals often laden with the melancholy fashionable at the time. Where many of his texts came from is unknown, and though published as a group, the madrigals were probably composed over a number of years. Five have a discrete backdrop of the harpsichord, the Italian-based group, Delitiae Musicae, here containing six male voices that largely revolve around the very distinctive voice of the countertenor, Alessandro Carmignani. Conducted by Marco Longhini, who allows the music to flow in unhurried tempos, the disc ends with two instrumental pieces, the Canzon francese del Principe for clavichord, and Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa for viola da gamba quartet. There is no doubting the clavichord’s ancient origin, and the music is interesting. [Gesualdo Madrigals Book 1 is available on Naxos 8.570548.]

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group