CD review: Gesualdo/Dean/Tuur

First published in the Guardian on 25 September, 2015

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Tallin Chamber Orchestra/Kaljuste (ECM)

Gesualdo was the composer-prince who had a thing for self-torture, who murdered his wife and her lover one dark night in Naples, whose music inhabits the wildest chromatic reaches of the 16th century. No wonder the juiciest bad guy in classical music has sparked the imagination of so many composers since. This aptly angst-filled album conducted by Tonu Kaljuste includes stylish string arrangements of Gesualdo vocal music plus related works by Brett Dean and Erkki-Sven Tuur. We get the spicy opening chords of Gesualdo’s madrigal Moro lasso twice: first a transcription by Kaljuste, full of fine-sculpted space and slow-shifting contours, then Dean’s Carlo, an intensely atmospheric work from 2007 that opens with straight Gesualdo then implodes into a murky throng of whispering voices and tormented strings. The Estonians capture the dark psyche without overdoing it; most chilling is how they evoke glassy loneliness in hushed moments. Tuur’s Psalmody is the other big work on the disc, but at 20 minutes of jaunty neo-baroque minimalism it isn’t half as interesting.