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Two ensembles dominate the performance of Italian madrigals, and, just as with the English early music scene, it comes as no surprise that they are essentially the same group of singers performing under what might be described as flags of convenience. The older of the two is the Concerto Italiano, directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini, which predates La Venexiana by about a decade.
This uniformity of personnel to a certain extent does imply, and cause, a certain uniformity of style, and on the surface this is true. Both groups favour a highly expressionistic approach to this repertoire, which is characterised by restless, rapidly changing harmonies, and sudden shifts of mood and temper. Tempi and colour change almost every bar, which is a world away from the more flowing style of madrigal which the English school espouses as its own.
However, there are important differences between the two groups, which directly impact on the performance of the music and on our perception of that performance. Gesualdo's music is intense and challenging - much like the temperament of the man himself - and it is difficult to shape a convincing whole out of a performance of disparate parts, and it is interesting to note how the Concerto Italiano and La Venexiana adopt different approaches to this music. Allessandrini's group, possibly because of the presence of the conductor, favour greater extremes of contrast, whereas the conductor-less Venexiana make less of the sudden shifts and jolts on the listener's ear. This is not to say that one is more or less effective than the other, but this disc does allow for what might be described as a less choleric interpretation. Read more ›
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