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GRAMOPHONE (10/1988)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 0794881855322

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Reviewer: Iain Fenlon


For this, their first foray into the schizophrenic world of Carlo Gesualdo’s five-voice madrigals, Les Arts Florissants have selected their programme from the last three books, pieces in which the highly-mannered and exaggerated aspects of the composer’s style reach their most extreme expression. Nevertheless, we should not think of all these works being undifferentiated in style, and one of the fascination of this record, which has been very carefully planned, is the insight it offers into the gradual emergence and sharpening of the features which characterize Gesualdo’s late madrigalian manner. Some of those elements can already be heard in Sospirava il mio cor from the Third Book; by the last tracks they are present, with all their compositional distortions, in full dress.

William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are no strangers to the aesthetic of the Italian madrigal in its last decades, though I have often felt that both their sympathies and skills are really attuned to the French seventeenth-century repertories. This record, like so many of their productions, is full of surprises on both the large and small scales. The first, of a general kind, is the decision to add continuo accompaniments avant la lettre. This is certainly justifiable on historical grounds (even though continuo parts were not printed in the original edition), though I am less sure about the precise way it has been done with some passages within a piece still left a cappella. What is certainly less justifiable, if only on artistic grounds, is the performance of two madrigals on instruments alone (Io tacera and Corrente amanti); it makes little sense to attempt such highly-charged word-driven music in this way . What will also surprise some is the rather understated almost classically pure character of the interpretations, though I am relieved that the calculatedly neurotic and deliberately out-of-tune manner so often turned out for Gesualdo has here been eschewed . Nevertheless, a more vigorous projection of the texts would have been more faithful to the sound of the Italian language. That said, these are technically very fine and dramatically convincing and coherent readings which I would certainly listen to in preference to any other record of Gesualdo's madrigals currently available.

Also in Gramophone (09/2009) :

“…Les Arts Florissants recorded this more than 20 years ago and… its hardly aged at all. This includes excerpts from Books 3 and 6, interspersed with strikingly detailed performances on the harp from Andrew Lawrence-King. In their rhythmic freedom they seem to prefigure what Italian ensembles would achieve a few years later, but the cast is a very fine one, and the choice of pieces superb.”

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