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Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605 - 1674)
Lamento della Maria Stuarda [12.06]; In un mar di pensieri [9.15]; Amor mio, che cosíe questa [3.00]; Deh, memoria [7.01]; Suonera líultima tromba† [13.25]
Elisabeth Speiser (soprano)
Hans Ludwig Hirsch (harpsichord/organ)
rec. 1979, Villa Emo, Fanzolo, Veneto, Italy
JECKLIN JD711-2 [45.08]


Carissimi was both an ordained priest and a musician working for the Jesuits; so it should come as no surprise that his Lamento della Maria Stuarda should fit into a Jesuit tradition of using the story of Mary Stuart for didactic and political reasons. The tragic Catholic Queenís story was treated as a symbol of resurrection and life; Carissimiís treatment of the story is one of the works in which he is most associated with the counter-reformation.

Carissimi treats the Queen as one of that band of abandoned women who inspire composers, Monteverdiís Arianna springs to mind. Unlike later baroque composers, who would treat such heroines as Arianna and Lucrezia in a formal string of recitative and arias, Carissimi sets his text as a long sequence of flexible arioso and recitative. Only with the words A morire, a morire does Carissimi create anything like an aria and this comes back as a refrain towards the end. As a final coup, Carissimi eschews anything like a bravura finish, using instead a simple prayer.

On this disc the soprano Elisabeth Speiser is adept at providing vivid characterisation and her handling of Carissimiís recitative and arioso is wonderfully flexible. The voice itself is rather richer than you might have expected in this repertoire and with quite a pronounced vibrato; but a glance at the record sleeve explains everything, this is a re-issue of a recital recorded in 1979. More worrying than the vibrato, which is a very personal taste after all, is the way Speiserís top has a tendency to be a little wayward. But Speiser is an intelligent singer and she conveyís Mary Stuartís drama well. When this recording first came out on CD in 1989, the Gramophone praised the way she projected Mary Stuartís passion, femininity and regal dignity.

Still, Carissimiís chamber cantatas are not over-represented on disc so it is good to have this recital back in the catalogue. Jecklin is a label devoted to things Swiss and Speiser is Swiss so her recital has found a suitable home. She is best known, perhaps, for her singing of Euridice to Janet Bakerís Orfeo in Gluckís opera at Glyndebourne.

In addition to Mary Stuartís lament, Speiser gives us 3 other substantial pieces and one shorter one. In un mari di pensieri is another sombre piece, but this one utilises a rather lovely, tuneful arioso beside Carissimiís flexible recitative. Amor mio, che cose e questa is the shortest piece in the set and is the closest to a formal aria.

Deh, memoria, a che piu chiedi is rather longer and includes some wonderfully atmospheric recitative. The longest work on the disc is Suonera líultima tromba a cantata that starts with the sounding of the last trumpet. Hans Ludwig Hirsch, Speiserís accomplished accompanist, changes from harpsichord to chamber organ for this piece. Carissimi sets the last trumpet as a swirl of fanfares in the voice and organ; a wonderfully striking and dramatic opening which is marred smudged detail in Speiserís runs.

Hans Ludwig Hirsch is a sensitive accompanist and the recording catches the harpsichord and the organ rather well. The booklet includes a short but informative article by Hirsch and the complete Italian texts, unfortunately no translations are given.

There is much to admire in this recording and Speiser certainly has a feel for this music, all the tracks on the disc are wonderfully vivid. If you can live with her vibrato then I can recommend the disc.

Robert Hugill




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