Recorded in 1983, this precociously insightful performance of Carlo Gesualdo's Fifth Book of Madrigals in Five Parts was unavailable for a long time, so long that I lost track of it. This morning I came upon my original 1983 CD on a dusty shelf. I couldn't remember it in detail but I knew it would be worth re-hearing because it featured the youthful Emma Kirkby, the finest madrigalist soprano of her generation. I presume the sound quality of the remastered CD will be equal to the original, which was at the acme of British recording technology at the time.
Gesualdo's Fifth and Sixth books of madrigals were both published in 1611, though the composer claimed that he'd written them fifteen years earlier. In either case, Gesualdo ranks with Monteverdi as the founder of the "secunda prattica" of music, in which the otherwordly mathematical precision of Renaissance polyphony was abandoned for a style of music that was more emotional and dramatic, more attentive to poetic texts and word-painting, more florid, and audience-conscious. All 21 madrigals in the Fifth Book are highly chromatic, only incidentally polyphonic, written for five voices with no instrumental accompaniment. Seven singers participated in this recording, conducted by Anthony Rooley, but they never sing all together; each madrigal is sung one-on-a-part. All 21 Italian texts are of the tormented passion variety, but the love-longing of the words is so expressively rendered in the singing that translations are almost redundant.
Musicians around Europe today, especially in Italy, have worked hard to gather the historical performance knowledge and to learn the vocal technique to sing these bizarre wonders convincingly, so it's all the more amazing that Rooley's Consort of Musicke nailed them on the first try. No ensemble has ever yet improved on this performance.