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In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, it was an English group, the Consort of Musicke under director Anthony Rooley, that seized hold of the previously rather neglected Italian madrigal repertoire and injected it with vim, vigour, and not a little tongue-in-cheek fun. As a result, an area of the vocal repertoire often deemed less significant or weighty parts of composers’ outputs suddenly had new life breathed into it, and encouraged the exploration and rediscovery of the music by Italian ensembles; most noteworthy were Marco Longhini’s Delitiae Musicae, Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini, and La Venxiana, directed by Claudio Cavina.

All three groups tackled on disc the music of one of the repertoire’s most complex characters, Carlo Gesualdo, and now the latest madrigal supergroup, La Compagnia del Madrigale (formed by members from the latter two aforementioned ensembles), have started their own series of recordings; their account of Gesualdo’s sixth book rightly won plaudits – as did their double album of the Maundy Thursday responses – for the skill and ease with which they polished some of the composer’s most tortured writing, and this new release of the third book is no less stunning.

After the release of his first two madrigal books in 1594, Gesualdo’s compositional style decisively changed direction, under the guidance of Luzzasco Luzzaschi – setting him on the path of harmonic exploration that would end in the extremes of the fifth and sixth books. The opening track, ‘Ancidetemi pur, grievi martiri’, sets the melancholy tone for the rest of the madrigals – although no such accusations could be levelled at the current singers, whose performances I cannot imagine being bettered.

Three bonus tracks by composers related to Gesualdo – including one by his teacher Luzzaschi – show their influence on him and further highlight how strikingly radical this collection was; I eagerly await the remaining four books to complete the picture of Gesualdo’s descent (or should that be ‘ascent’?) into previously unimagined harmonic regions.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing