Dutch vocal group Kassiopeia Quintet takes on the whole of Carlo Gesualdo's fourth book of madrigals in Globe's Don Carlo Gesualdo: Madrigali Libro IV. This marks the fourth time on disc for Book IV, previous editions including those by the Quintetto Vocale Italiano on Rivo Alto (recorded for LP in 1965), the Ensemble Arte-Musica on Tactus, and La Venexiana on Glossa. The Fourth Book, printed in 1596, represents Gesualdo in transition from the typical Italian madrigal to the tortured harmonic extremes of his Fifth and Sixth books, which, along with his Responses, include his most famous works. By virtue of the Kassiopeia Quintet's recording, the Fourth book actually takes the lead among Gesualdo's madrigal publications in number of times it has been entirely recorded. One would think the latter two volumes would be recorded more frequently in their whole state; however, the music in these books is murderously difficult to sing and the prospect of taking them on in a single session would be exhausting, so by default Book IV has emerged as a nice compromise. It would be hard anyway for a madrigal group to resist the charms of "Luci serene e chiare" for very long. The Kassiopeia Quintet seems to be tackling all of Gesualdo's madrigals, as it has already recorded Gesualdo's rather obscure Book II.
Although the 15 madrigals of Book IV are duly included, there are 21 tracks, as Globe has decided to divide the second parts of certain madrigals away from their first parts, a practice also observed on the Glossa release with La Venexiana. The problem with dividing single madrigals into twos is that the impasse between tracks generally isn't similarly adjusted so that a longer than normal pause occurs twixt the two parts of a madrigal that wouldn't nearly be as lengthy in performance. Though its membership is international, the Kassiopeia Quintet is a well-blended ensemble that understands the idiom of the Italian madrigal. While the voices aren't as smooth and pristine as the King's Singers in the Responses, they aren't plummy and operatic either as La Venexiana sometimes sounds, or as the ancient recording by the Quintetto Vocale Italiano sounds pretty much all the way through. However, La Venexiana has a little bit of an edge in terms of pacing, which is more careful and generally slower than the Kassiopeia Quintet and a bit more expressive. However, some might like these madrigals with a bit more zing along with their harmonic sting, so in this instance it would be difficult to recommend one performance over another. Suffice it is to say that the Kassiopeia Quintet's Don Carlo Gesualdo: Madrigali Libro IV on Globe is quite good, but it may not be the last word on this intriguing and highly challenging late Renaissance literature.