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Piangete: Cantatas and Motets by Giacomo Carissimi
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674)

Cum reverteretur David, motet for 3 voices and bc [04:09]
Benedictus Deus et Pater, motet for 3 voices and bc [[04:30]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)

Partite sopra La Monicha for keyboard [07:17]

Exulta, gaude, filia Sion, motet for two voices and bc*/*** [05:07]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c1580-1651)

Toccata XI for chitarrone [02:01]

Va dimanda al mio pensiero, cantata for solo voice and bc [05:38]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER

Prelude XI for chitarrone [00:36]

O dulcissimum Mariae nomen, motet for two voices and bc*/** [03:31]
Siam tre miseri piangenti, cantata for three voices and bc [08:16]
Michelangelo ROSSI (1601/02-1656)

Toccata VII for keyboard [04:07]

Surrexit pastor bonus, motet for three voices and bc [02:23]
Ahi, non torna, cantata for two voices and bc**/*** [05:06]
Piangete, ohimè piangete, cantata for solo voice and bc* [05:42]
Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER

Prelude X for chitarrone [00:54]

Si dia bando, alla speranza, cantata for solo voice and bc** [03:47]
Omnes gentes gaudete cum victore, motet for three voices and bc [03:39]
Concerto delle Donne:
Donna Deam*, Gill Ross**, Elin Manahan Thomas***, soprano; David Miller, chitarrone; Alastair Ross, harpsichord, organ
Recorded in February 2001 at the Church of St Lawrence, West Wycombe, UK, DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD040 [66:24]
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In the ’30s and ’40s of the 17th century Rome was the place to be. The music scene was dominated by two composers who had an international reputation and attracted pupils from all over Europe: Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose main activity was in the field of keyboard music, and Giacomo Carissimi, who predominantly composed vocal music.

In 1629 Carissimi became ‘maestro di cappella’ of the Jesuit Collegio Germanico in Rome, where students from German-speaking countries received a theological education with everything that was connected to it. One of those things was music: Carissimi was responsible for the musical performances at the Collegio and for the music classes as well. But he also attracted pupils from outside the Collegio. Among the most famous were Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Johann Caspar Kerll, Christoph Bernhard and perhaps also Agostino Steffani.

Carissimi nowadays is mainly known for his oratorios, which were not written for the Collegio. This disc presents a number of motets which were composed to be performed during the daily services at the church of the Collegio, the S. Apollinare. One of the features of these motets is that biblical or liturgical texts are often extended with new poetry. Other pieces don’t have liturgical or biblical texts, but are only inspired by them.

But this recording doesn’t only contain sacred music: there are a number of cantatas, which Carissimi composed, in particular in the 1650s, for the court of the Swedish Queen Christina, who had abandoned the throne after her conversion to the Catholic faith and went to Rome, where she established herself as an important patroness of the arts.

Both the cantatas and the motets reflect Carissimi’s dramatic style of composing. There is a close connection between words and music, and some effective word painting. Often the sections of a piece are strongly contrasting. And Carissimi must have had excellent singers at his disposal, since many pieces are virtuosic and technically demanding.

The other big name in Rome, Girolamo Frescobaldi, is also represented here, unfortunately with a keyboard piece which is very often recorded. That is also the case with the Toccata VII by Michelangelo Rossi, who was also active in Rome in the 1640s and 1650s. The fourth name on this disc is the German-born Kapsberger, a virtuoso on lute and chitarrone.

Listening to this disc has really made me angry. It contains some of the finest and most dramatic music which has been written in Italy in the mid-17th century. And we also have three singers with very beautiful voices, blending very well, and singing with a minimum of vibrato, which allows the dissonances to come through strongly and the text to be understood very clearly. But they never really meet: the singers aren’t able to bring about the dramatic character of the music. The tempi are very uniform, not only between but also within the pieces. There is a serious lack of declamation and no sensitivity to the theatrical character of the cantatas or the emotional content of the motets.

Everyone knows how important the Virgin Mary is in the Catholic faith. Therefore a piece like ‘O dulcissimum Mariae nomen’ needs to be sung with real passion and commitment. The use of the messa di voce would have greatly helped to bring across the exalted character of this motet.

The opening item, ‘Cum reverteretur David’, deserves special attention. In the booklet Graham Dixon explains how the figure of David – a weak boy who was helped by God in his struggle against the giant Goliath – was appealing to the supporters of the Counter-Reformation (in particular the Jesuits). It means that a piece like this should be performed with strong engagement and conviction. But that is absent here.

The performance of the cantatas isn’t very different. In some cantatas the words are placed in the mouth of the protagonist, but the singers seem not to be able to show any identification with that protagonist. One of the most expressive cantatas is ‘Siam tre miseri piangenti’ (We are three wretched souls weeping), which contains some very strong passages like "may Hell swarm with a thousand furies and may their presence stop her daring and multiply her suffering in Hell". But the performance only gives a hint at what could have been. Often the tempi are too slow and the word painting isn’t fully exploited.

Perhaps one could consider the performance of the two keyboard pieces as an indication of the general level of this recording. The playing of Rossi’s Toccata is unimaginative and stiff beyond belief. All the excitement has disappeared. Frescobaldi’s Partite sopra La Monicha isn’t much better.

In the liner notes Graham Dixon refers to the popularity of Carissimi’s music in England in the 17th century, and "hearing performances of Carissimi by musicians based in England is therefore a completely authentic experience (...)". If that is meant as an excuse for unexpressive performances of Carissimi’s very expressive music, it is pretty lame.

Johan van Veen

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View track details:
Motet Cum reverteretur David
Motet Benedictus Deus et Pater
Parte sopra lamonicha
Motet Exulta, gaude, filia Sion
Toccata XI
Cantata Va dimanda al mio pensiero
Prelude XI
Motet O dulcissimum Mariae nomen
Cantata Siam tre miseri piangenti
CDTnº10 - M. ROSSI
Toccata Settima
Motet Surrexit pastor bonus
Cantata Ahi, non torna
Cantata Piangete, ohime piangete
Prelude X
Cantata Di dia bando, alla speranza
Motet Omnes gentes gaudete cum victore

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