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GESUALDO: QUINTO LIBRO DI MADRIGALI / ECM New Series 2175            player

An aristocrat who forged an idiosyncratic style of musical expression, Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa was the creator of a bold, new harmonic language, and a composer truly ahead of his time. A founder of his own academy, to which many leading madrigalists of the 16th and early 17th centuries belonged, Gesualdo (1560 – 1613) was a highly expressive composer, as well as a virtuoso performer on the bass lute. Yet his chromatic progressions baffled his contemporaries and had to wait until the 19th-century High Romantic period to find artistic parallels. Among his most important compositions are six books of five-part madrigals dating from between 1594 and 1611. The last two books in particular – this recording by the Hilliard Ensemble brings new performances of Book 5 – display his dissonant musical language with its extreme harmonic disruptions, striking tempo contrasts and a distinctly modern feel for drama.

Gesualdo’s music has been part of The Hilliard Ensemble’s performing life for more than two decades. The British vocal group’s 1990 recording of the Tenebrae Responsories, which won awards including the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, is now widely regarded a reference recording of the work. Through the years, the Hilliards have kept the Responsories in their concert repertoire. As baritone singer Gordon Jones notes, “With such highly-charged, mannered music you wonder sometimes how much repetition it can bear but, for us, Gesualdo has stood the test of time. Audiences never seem to tire of these dramatic musical tableaux and for the performers the technical and musical challenges seem constantly fresh. This continuing relationship with Gesualdo’s music led us, a few years ago, to look in detail at what other of his works we might perform… Eventually a desire for completeness overtook us and we decided to see if we could tackle the entire Fifth Book of Madrigals. The whole collection constitutes a gallery of dramatically lit portraits of human emotions with a heavy emphasis on the extremes of joy and despair.”

For this recording, realized at Propstei St. Gerold in November 2009, the Hilliard quartet of David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones was augmented by soprano Monika Mauch and second countertenor David Gould, both of whom have a history with the group. Gould appears on the groups albums of Bach Motets and Guillaume de Machaut Motets. Mauch, meanwhile, sang with the Hilliards on the highly successful Bach ‘reconstruction’ album “Morimur”, based on the research of Helga Thoene.

The Hilliard Ensemble’s standing as an early music ensemble dates from the 1980s with its series of successful recordings for EMI. The 1988 recording of Arvo Pärt’s Passio began a fruitful relationship with both Pärt and ECM, and was followed by their recording of Pärt’s Litany. The group has recently commissioned other composers from the Baltic States, including Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür, adding to a rich repertoire of new music from Gavin Bryars, Heinz Holliger, John Casken, James MacMillan, Elena Firsova and many others.
In addition to many a cappella discs, collaborations for ECM include most notably Officium, Mnemosyne and Oficium Novum with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, a partnership which continues to develop and renew itself, and Morimur with the German Baroque violinist Christoph Poppen and soprano Monika Mauch.
The group continues in its quest to forge relationships with living composers, often in an orchestral context. In 1999, they premiered Miroirs des Temps by Unsuk Chin with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Kent Nagano. In the same year, James MacMillan’s Quickening, commissioned jointly by the BBC and the Philadelphia Orchestra, was premiered at the BBC Proms. With Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic, they performed the world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s 3rd Symphony which was subsequently premiered in Europe by the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken – Kaiserslautern and Christoph Poppen. They have also collaborated with the Munich Chamber Orchestra with a new work by Erkki-Sven Tüür. In 2007 they joined forces with the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra to premiere Nunc Dimittis by the Russian composer Alexander Raskatov. In 2009 they worked with the Arditti Quartet performing a new work, Et Lux by Wolfgang Rihm.
A new development for the group began in August 2008 with the premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival of a music theatre project written by Heiner Goebbels in a production by the Théâtre Vidy, Lausanne: I went to the house but did not enter. This has subsequently been presented throughout Europe and the US.
In 2011, ECM New Series released Boris Yoffe’s “Song of Songs”, a unique collaboration between the the Rosamunde Quartet and Hilliard Ensemble.
2012 is shaping up to be a characteristically busy year for the Hilliard singers. In March the Ensemble toured Australia, collaborating with Australian Chamber Orchestra. They return to Europe for a season that includes performances of Gesualdo as well as continuation of the work with Jan Garbarek and with Heiner Goebbels. More details at www.hilliardensemble.demon.co.uk

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