Classical CD Reviews

GESUALDO: Il Canto dell’Ombra – Responsoria – De Labyrintho led by Walter Testolin, with Vittorio Ghielmi, viola da gamba – Stradivarius

The recording is of audiophile quality, with solo and multiple voices hinting at analogue quality beneath the digital sampling, and gambist Ghielmi producing bowed and plucked sounds that are almost tangible.

Published on December 4, 2009

GESUALDO: Il Canto dell’Ombra – Responsoria – De Labyrintho led by Walter Testolin, with Vittorio Ghielmi, viola da gamba – Stradivarius

GESUALDO: Il Canto dell’Ombra – Responsoria – De Labyrintho led by Walter Testolin, with Vittorio Ghielmi, viola da gamba – Stradivarius STR 33842, 60:45 ***** [Distr. by Allegro Imports]:

The excellent Italian group De Labyrintho sings Gesualdo warm and compassionate with perfect intonation and great sound. Instead of the dolorous, moody monotony (not monody) which can either seem darkly beautiful or send you into flights of depression, this recording of some of the murderous composer’s "Responsoria" are illuminated by occasional gamba contributions from the great Vittorio Ghielmi.

The brief but illuminating essay by Walter Testolin is one of the most beautifully written in many years. If you can read Italian or French, you get an extra-added bonus at no charge: the opportunity to read Tesolin’s essay alongside the text translations by Bronislawa Falinska and Silvia Miguidi. Some examples of cross-cultural currents:

Italian: "Cosa dire di Carlo Gesualdo, principe di Venosa, inquieto nipote di cardinali e di santi, ultimo discendente di aristocrazia perfino…"

English: "What can one say about Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, restless nephew of Cardinals and Saints, the last of an ancient line…"

French: "Que dire de Carlo Gesualdo, prince de Venosa? Inquiet descendant de cardinaux et de saints, dernier rejeton d’une aristocratie meme archaique…"

The "in memoriam" dedication to the writer Mario Rigoni Stern (a concentration camp survivor) is followed by this quotation from Macbeth:

"Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,
Loyal and neutral in a moment? No man.
Th’expedition of my violent love
Outran the pauser reason."

Heavy stuff, but apt for this unusually human recording of music which Testolin describes as "cruelly beautiful, and desperately autobiographical."  Thanks to Jerry Weber in Fanfare for this alert: “There is an Easter egg on this disc. The program is followed by two minutes of silence (counted down on the readout) and then “Ave dulcissima Maria,” the most familiar of the Cantiones Sacrae. There is no other clue to the presence of this extra piece, but it is included in the printed total timing.”

The recording, which was made in the Church of Maria and Zenone in Zugliano, northwest of Venice, is of audiophile quality, with solo and multiple voices hinting at analogue quality beneath the digital sampling, and gambist Ghielmi producing bowed and plucked sounds that are almost tangible. Great at low volumes, and really amazing played full out if – you’ve got the right equipment.

- Laurence Vittes




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