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GRAMOPHONE (02/2017)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

Along with the Fifth Book of Madrigals issued alongside it, Gesualdo’s Sixth Book charts the culmination of his stylistic development, its contents likely written over more than a decade. Among notable recent recordings is that of La Compagnia del Madrigale (the successor to La Venexiana), the nearest comparator to this new set from Philippe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale Gent. Unusually for him (but sensibly in this repertoire), Herreweghe opts for single voices, as he did for Lassus’s sacred madrigal cycle Lagrime di San Pietro twenty-odd years ago (Harmonia Mundi, 8/94). Here he adds a lutenist, who participates in just about half of the programme.

Herreweghe’s singers are well matched, though lacking the stardust that attended the Lagrime line-up or the fullnesss of timbre of La Compagnia. But they are light on their feet, which suits his approach. His tempos are faster and he lingers less over details; at 65 minutes, he shaves around 10 minutes off La Compagnia’s set. This marks him out from Italian groups generally, to say nothing of the mannerist Gesualdo interpretations of Concerto Italiano. One might think that Herreweghe’s abbreviated approach clarifies the formal trajectory of individual pieces, but to my mind the opposite is true. Steering a middle course between Rinaldo Alessandrini’s deliciously masochistic tooth-pulling and Herreweghe, La Compagnia’s more detailed scrutiny allows one to grasp the relationship of sections to the whole, and their greater heft allows them to make more of those wrenching sighs and cries. At its best the beauty of the Collegium’s voices is very impressive (try the opening tracks), but passagework and some ends of phrases risk being swallowed up by a slightly resonant acoustic. Herreweghe is too fine an interpreter to pass over, but could it be that Gesualdo’s flirtations with catastrophe elude the director’s fastidious craftsmanship?

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