Musikfest Berlin 2011:Gesualdo Consort gives polished performance of Renaissance madrigals in a former pumping station

GermanyGermany  Musikfest Berlin 2011 – Vesuvian Music – Gesualdo and his Italian Renaissance contemporaries: Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam [Stephanie Petitlaurent (soprano); Nele Gramß (soprano); Marnix De Cat (countertenor); Julian Podger (tenor); Harry van Berne (tenor); Harry van der Kamp (bass and director)], Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord). Radialsystem V, Friedrichshain, Berlin, 14th September 2011

Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam © Allard Willemse

As part of the musikfest berlin 2011 I elected to attend this concert of Renaissance madrigals at the Radialsystem V rather than attend a production of Wagner’s’ Siegfried at the Deutsche Oper. I had been at the Philharmonie all week, and  much as I adore attending concerts in Scharoun’s iconic Berlin concert hall it made a welcome change to visit what was a new concert venue for me.

Opened as recently as 2006 the Radialsystem V cultural centre is situated on the edge of the River Spree close to Ostbahnhof mainline railway station. Constructed mainly out of glazed brick this ex-water authority pumping station, that I would estimate seats around 500, was sold out for the concert. What an excellent acoustic it can boast, too!

Entitled Vesuvian Music the concert from the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam comprised  eighteen late-Renaissance madrigals in the secular Italian tradition. The hot-blooded and controversial Neapolitan master composer Gesualdo Prince of Venosa was the featured composer with five works each from his books five and six. There was a madrigal each from Gesualdo’s contemporaries –  Ruggiero Giovannelli, Ascanio Maione, Agostino Agresta, Giuseppe Palazzotto di Tagliavia, Francesco Genuino, Crescentio Salzilli, Antonio de Metrio and Diego Personè.

In these highly civilised and attractive five-part madrigals there was far more variation in dynamics and tempi than I expected, so they never became wearying on the ear. Dealing exclusively with love, passion, yearning, death and dying the texts of the madrigals could not be described as diverse; however, Gesualdo’s colourful word painting was astonishing. Early music specialists the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam were impeccably prepared and proved to be extremely polished performers responding to the astute direction of bass Harry van der Kamp. Combining consummate artistry with musicianship the individual voices of the Consort blended together into one remarkable whole which totally captivated the audience.

The madrigals were interspersed with four solo harpsichord works by composers De Macque, Luython and Storace played by the accomplished Pieter-Jan Belder using a modern copy by Cornelis Bom (2003) of a 1679 original after Giovanni Giusti from the Tagliavini collection in Florence. These pieces were performed thoughtfully, and I was struck by Belder’s clean articulation and agreeably judged tempi.

Attending Siegfried at the Deutsche Oper might have been superb, but the evening of mesmerising Renaissance madrigals mainly from the pen of Gesualdo with several harpsichord solos proved to be one of the most satisfying concerts that I have ever attended.

Michael Cookson