PERTH FESTIVAL: The Gesualdo Six

Perth Museum and Art Gallery 

“It’s not all about nymphs and shepherds.” With these teasing words from Owain Park, director of The Gesualdo Six, his slick tight-knit ‘a cappella’ vocal ensemble embarked on a 12-composer Renaissance journey entitled The Flower of the Italian Madrigal. En route were predictable themes of love, death, even a brief recourse to those nymphs and shepherds, but also via more unexpected diversions that ventured into such realistic realms as the world of Italian politics. 

The venue for this online Festival concert, released Tuesday, was well chosen, the city’s Museum and Art Gallery. Its classicism and booming acoustics were both an apposite visual and aural wraparound to the stylised grace of the music. The singers stood in a circle within, as if in conference, opening with Viva amore by the 15th/16th century madrigalist Bartolomeo Tromboncino, its rippling crisscross of parts fusing into a luminous counterpoint, enlivened by the reverb and the laddish conviviality of the group.

Progressing through the years brought a succession of choral delights. The pairing of Verdalot and Arcadelt – teacher and pupil – threw together the former’s optimistic hopes of a united Italy (Italia Mia) with the languid thoughts of approaching death in Arcadelt’s Beautiful White Swan. Then to the stately perfection of Palestrina’s Io son ferito before the darker tones of Morir non puo by  Maddelena Casulana (the first ever female composer in Western Europe to have a complete volume of her music published) and low-pitched wretchedness of Alessandro Striggio’s Misero Ohime.

The journey’s end was inevitably Monteverdi, two voluptuous examples that closed with the resigned calm of Rimanti in Pace from his Third Book of Madrigals, but not before further illustrating the riches of the genre in works by Giovanni de’ Bardi, Luca Marenzio, Vittoria Aliotti, Marco da Gagliano, and of course the anarchic harmonic inventiveness of Carlo Gesualdo, whose name the ensemble honours.

Had this programme not been so thoughtfully interspersed with explanatory comments from each of the singers, its stream of thought may not have been as captivating and intriguing as it was. As it happened, the presentation was balanced in every sense, the story well told, the journey well worth taking.
Ken Walton

Available to view until 3 June on the Perth Festival website