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Fanfare Magazine: 36:6 (07-08/2013) 
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Reviewer: J. F. Weber

The last two books of madrigals of Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1611), Book V and this one, were published in the last year of his life, although some place their composition much earlier. This book has not fared so well on record lately. Wolfgang Fromme recorded the last two books together in a set for Sony, but we never saw it here. Maurice Bourbon tackled this book on Arion in 1996 with the distinction of using enough singers (one to a part) to cope with the tessituras of each piece without transposing any of them. Angelo Ephrikian and Kassiopeia (33:4) include Book VI in their complete sets, but several other groups that started with Book I have not reached the end of their projected sets. So for its first recording this new group tackles the final book. They also use eight singers according to the tessitura of each song. Judging by two group photos, two guests have joined the basic group of six singers. Of the six singers, three are identified as founding members of the recently organized ensemble, though they have sung together for many years with Concerto Italiano and La Venexiana. As it happens, the latter group has recorded Book IV (Fanfare 24: 3) and Book V (29:2) already, so this may be regarded as a continuation of sorts.

Kassiopeia, the most recent competition, also uses eight singers, but their tempos are faster in most of the songs, often significantly faster. This contrast between Italian and northern ensembles has been noted before, suggesting that the native singers linger over the meaning of the texts. The annotator launches his discussion of the composer with comments on Werner Herzog’s film, Death for Five Voices (34:1), as an example of recent evaluations of the composer and his music. He compares the modern understanding to the writings of several 17th-century Italian writers who appreciated Gesualdo’s achievements as a composer, as well as the later comments of G. B. Martini. In an added note signed by the ensemble, the chiavette used in almost all of these madrigals require the lower pitch heard here. The contrast with Kassiopeia’s higher pitch is evident. This is consistent with La Venexiana’s earlier recordings of Gesualdo, for Claudio Cavina (not a member of the present group) made the same point in the notes to Book IV. While Kassiopeia made a valiant effort to cope with Gesualdo’s complete madrigals in a project that encompassed concerts and recordings stretching over several years, I much prefer the new interpretation of this last book, its dissonant harmonies and chromatic inflections superbly realized, along with its grasp of the poetic texts that the music complements so effectively. This disc is a highlight of the composer’s quatercentenary.

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