Carissimi directed by Vittorio Zanon
Recorded May 2000 San Cassiano Rovigo Italy
NAXOS 8.555076 [64.03]
This CD consists of Latin motets for men's voices with strings and continuo written by a composer as famous in his time as Monteverdi, his natural predecessor.
Carissimi was a church musician from his childhood. He was a chorister and then organist in Tivoli. After 1627, he was choirmaster at the cathedral church of St. Ruffino after which he was invited to work in Rome at the prestigious Basilica of Sant'Apollinare which was already established as a centre of musical excellence. Amongst his pupils were Johann Caspar Kerll and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. He obviously enjoyed life in Rome because he turned down numerous offers of further employment including that of Saint Marks Venice after Monteverdi's death in 1643. He allowed himself a sojourn in Sweden in 1656 to work for that rather tiresome woman Queen Christina of Sweden who probably harassed him beyond measure. He later returned to Rome and died there.
His manuscripts are a problem. They do not exist in the composer's hand but were copied by pupils. Pope Clement X prohibited lending, transfer, sale and production of his music so that it could be the sole property of the papal see. Over a period of 300 years the manuscripts have become lost or destroyed either accidentally or in small fires, which occur periodically.
The Consortium Carissimi were formed not for this CD as you might think but in 1996 to attempt to rediscover his music, and as Garrick Comeaux says in the CD booklet, to play it on correct instruments at the correct historical pitch. The manuscripts have been revised and copied by Professor Andrew Jones and I, for one, hope that they soon find their way into print.
You may know Carissimi solely as a composer of oratorio as for instance 'Jepthe' published by Novello. These were written for the Oratory of Santissimo Crocifisso which created the tradition of large-scale biblical musical settings. These motets have all of the characteristics of the best of the oratorios. They also at times have an indebtedness to Monteverdi while at the same time pointing forward to Schutz and Charpentier. This can be seen by looking closely at the last motet on the disc 'Suscitavit Dominus'(track 10).
'In te, Domine speravi' (track 4) could easily be confused with a motet by Monteverdi from his Selvi Morali e Spirituale (1640). However the jaunty rhythms and frank open melodic lines of 'Suscitavit' are pure Carissimi. It begins with a slow instrumental introduction, then: (ii) a solo tenor recitative for the first four lines; (iii) all three voices enter, allegro, with the words " Fugite Populi" demonstrating some attractive and memorable word painting. There is (iv) an instrumental elaboration of those words. v) Bass solo recitative for the next four lines followed by (vi) a vocal repeat of 'Fugiti Populi' and the instrumental elaboration (vii). The simple and egalitarian plan continues with a solo recitative for the baritone (viii) which takes in the remaining seven lines of text. (ix) is a repeat of the vocal 'fugite' section , which is lengthened and ends with a coda and a sudden 'fugite' ending. All are perfect in form, balance and, let me add, execution.
Talking of pure Carissimi, if you want to find him, look at the similar rondo-type format, which applies to the motet 'O vulnera doloris' for bass and theorbo (track 6). This aria, effectively, is a delicious melody, which is pure Carissimi with the repeated text and its lovely falling line returning after every few lines of text. The motet is helped by the beautiful and beatific voice of bass Garrick Comeaux - one of the guiding lights behind the Consortium Carissimi.
Just to take a brief look at the motets not mentioned so far: they are nicely spaced out on the recording with full ensemble pieces alternating with solo motets. 'Surgantes, eamus properemus' is for full ensemble with instrumental sections. ' O vos populi' for the ensemble alternates music in triple time with that in duple time. 'Quid tandem sunt' for full ensemble is preserved in a Swedish manuscript and was presumably written for Queen Christina. The remaining motets are in a recitativic style, which breaks into melisma and arioso where the words seem to demand more elaboration. 'Quid est luc vir' is for alto and basso continuo. 'Lucifer', about the arrogance of the fallen angel, is suitably for bass and continuo, 'Quasi aquila' is for solo tenor and an instrumental ensemble which includes a lone single phrase for an off-stage tenor. 'Lamentations Jeremiae Prophetiae' is for alto and continuo.
I thought it worth setting out these motets clearly so as to demonstrate that this is a disc of musical contrast and variety with each singer equally represented, in music of a high quality, all wonderfully performed
Two small gripes. Will Naxos please allow a little more silence between tracks especially on their Early Music CDs which tend to have several short but quite separate tracks. Also the booklet is inconsistent in telling us where the texts can be found, for example the Lucifer motet. The non-biblical texts are particularly interesting.