The vocal group Delitiae Musicae formed in 1990 and in the past eight years has recorded seven of Monteverdi’s nine books of madrigals and, now, half of Gesualdo’s six. The present album is their biggest challenge yet: Book 3 (1595) is where Gesualdo achieves a nearly relentless level of harmonic dissonance and dramatic contrast. The Prince of Genosa needed no patron and was constrained by no need to satisfy others’ tastes; he wrote for himself, displaying the self-torment provoked by his notorious 1590 murder of his wife and her lover and his subsequent isolation and focus on plaintive texts.
Delitiae Musicae here is seven singers, though only five (usually) or six at a time, and a harpsichordist on five madrigals plus two canzonetta bonus tracks. Their tuning in this difficult music is impeccable; the level of interpretive inflection throughout is highly expressive without wearing out any particular gestures or hamming it up. Their bass, Walter Testolin, is particularly impressive, with a rich tone that avoids boominess. The countertenors tend to dominate, mostly because Gesualdo frequently places the uppermost voice in the spotlight, but partly because of the up-close recording perspective. Vivid and beautiful performances of the most piquant music prior to the 20th century.