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Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674)
Historia di Jephte [21:38]
Dai pił riposti abissi, Serenade [12:09]
Historia Ionae [19:30]
Consortium Carissimi/Vittorio Zanon
Recorded November 2003 at the Museo Civico, Marino, Italy DDD
NAXOS 8.557390 [53:16]

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The name of Giacomo Carissimi doesn't appear that often on concert programmes or on the covers of CD recordings. This makes it all the more remarkable that within a couple of years at least five recordings with his music have been released. It is a shame, on the other hand, that so many of them contain the same compositions. One of these is the oratorio Jephte, which appears on three of them, and Jona on two.

Although Carissimi also composed secular works and other kinds of religious music, it is the oratorios that represent his main claim to fame. His contribution to the genre is such that the oratorios by Handel are unthinkable without Carissimi. Handel knew his oratorios, and borrowed from them.

It is important to understand the goal of the oratorio. It was a part of the attempts of the Counter-Reformation to strengthen the faith of the members of the Roman Catholic Church. The arts played a crucial role in these attempts. It was especially during Lent that oratorios were performed. The brotherhood of Santissimo Crocifisso in Rome was in particular active in promoting oratorio performances. For this brotherhood Carissimi composed his oratorios. The brotherhood contained people of some social standing, who gathered during Lent to listen to music and to a sermon, and stuck to the use of Latin rather than Italian. This explains the fact that the oratorios all make use of a Latin text.

Carissimi's oratorios are rooted in the Italian style which had been developed in the early decades of the 17th century. In the Historia di Jephte, for instance, Carissimi makes use of the 'stile concitato' - best known today from Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda - to depict the battle of Israel against Ammon. Also very popular at the time was the 'lament', which appears at several moments in both oratorios. There is a long lament by Jephta's daughter, when she finds out that she is going to be sacrificed as a result of her father's vow to God. In the Historia di Jona it is the prophet who sings a lament in the belly of the great fish which has swallowed him after he has been thrown overboard. This lament is then echoed at the end of the oratorio by the people of Nineveh when they have heard God's prophecy that he is going to punish the city for its sins.

Another popular compositional technique was the echo. Carissimi uses this in the lament of Jephta's daughter, when some of her words are repeated, like 'ululate' (weep), 'lachrimate' (shed tears) or 'resonate' (resound). Carissimi also makes use of the Venetian polychoral technique to illustrate the storm, which prompts the crew of the ship to throw Jona overboard, and the calm which results from this.

As the two main compositions on this disc are available in other recordings, it is difficult to see any justification for a release like this. And the interpretation by the Carissimi Consort is just acceptable at best, but more often simply inadequate. Rhythmic vitality and a clear accentuation of the text are lacking in the choruses. The solo passages are generally not very well realised. Whereas some of the basses are too weak at the lower end of their tessitura, the voice of tenor Fabio Furnari lacks strength in the upper register. Both as Historicus in Jephta and in the role of the prophet Jona he gives rather unsatisfying performances. Soprano Nadia Caristi's voice is too weak and colourless to realise the crucial part of Jephta's daughter. Neither the song of praise after the victory over Ammon nor her lament over her fate make any impact. Her diction isn't very good either, which is partly due to the fact she can't pronounce Rs.

I have heard other recordings by this ensemble which I really enjoyed. But it seems Carissimi's oratorios are just not within their grasp. I would prefer to hear them in Carissimi's motets, of which he has written a large number, which have hardly ever been recorded.

Johan van Veen

see also Reviews by Robert Hugill and Kevin Sutton


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