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 Queen’s story was treated as a symbol of resurrection
and life; Carissimi’s treatment of the story is one of the works
in which he is most associated with the counter-reformation.
the Queen as one of that band of abandoned women who inspire
composers, Monteverdi’s 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 Carissimi’s 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 Speiser’s top has a tendency to be a little wayward. But
Speiser is an intelligent singer and she convey’s Mary Stuart’s
drama well. When this recording first came out on CD in 1989,
the Gramophone praised the way she projected Mary Stuart’s passion,
femininity and regal dignity.
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 Baker’s Orfeo in Gluck’s opera
In addition to Mary
Stuart’s 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 Carissimi’s flexible recitative. Amor mio,
che cose e questa is the shortest piece in the set and is
the closest to a formal aria.
a che piu chiedi is rather longer and includes some wonderfully
atmospheric recitative. The longest work on the disc is Suonera
l’ultima tromba a cantata that starts with the sounding
of the last trumpet. Hans Ludwig Hirsch, Speiser’s 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 Speiser’s 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.