Do we really need another recording of Gesualdo's Fifth book of madrigals? Probably not. After all, we already have three very fine recordings by Metamorphoses, La Venexiana and Kassiopeia Quintet, all of whom take a decidedly different approach to the Hilliard Ensemble. My problem with the Hilliards approach (hence the measly 3 stars) is that they're not suited to this music. No one does spiritual madrigals and motets better than the Hilliards (their Gesualdo 'Tenebrae' for ECM is awesome and if you aren't familiar with that work check out my lengthy review on Amazon), but the Fifth book of madrigals is thoroughly secular and not suited to the Hilliards 'spiritual' tone. Their interpretations of these madrigals are too restrained, too polite, too buttoned-up, too bloodless, too solemn, too lacking in sexual energy. Yes, these are love songs, twisted love songs sometimes, but songs about the ups and downs of romance, sexual desire, physical love, rampant carnality and all that entails. There's an orgasm in pretty much every madrigal here, but you'd never know that by listening to the Hilliard Ensemble, who have added a soprano in an attempt to spice things up a bit - sadly it doesn't work. Compare the Hilliards approach to La Venexiana and you'll notice the staggering differences and the deficiencies of the Hilliard CD. La Venexiana bring out the warmth, the tenderness, the aching sensuality, the poignant frustrations, the crushing despair that is woven through these stunning madrigals.
The Hilliard Ensemble would be better off doing a complete version of Gesualdo's Sacrae Cantiones since no one has so far recorded those spiritual works in their entirety for the required five voices.