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Nicolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
Le Lamentazioni del profeta Geremia per il Mercoledi Santo
Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah for Wednesday in Holy Week
Lamentazione prima [26:13]
Lamentazione seconda [23:06]
Lamentazione terza [24:39]
Gérard Lesne (contralto); Véronique Gens (soprano);
Il Seminario Musicale/Christophe Rousset
rec.? (P) 1996. DDD.
Texts not included.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6286282 [73:58]

Experience Classicsonline
I sometimes wish that record companies would cease inventing new labels; now we must get used to a new mid-price label from Virgin Classics, Premium, selling for around £8.50 in the UK. I must nevertheless welcome my first encounter with the new label, since it restores what I believe is the only current recording of Jommelli’s Lamentazioni, albeit with a grumble or two, which I’ll deal with first, concerning the lack not only of texts and translations – merely the opening words of each verse – or any indication where they may be found, but also of any information in the notes as to what chapter of Lamentations is set for the Wednesday in Holy Week.

The text comes, in fact, from Lamentations 1 1-14. For convenience of intending purchasers, I give it below, something which I find that I’m having to do far too often. It’s actually the lesson for Matins of Maundy Thursday – in monastic usage, intended to be sung at midnight, but the practice arose of singing the office on the preceding evening, with the candles extinguished one by one until a single candle was left on the high altar to signify the Light of the World. The practice, referred to as Tenebræ (Latin = darkness), had been popular in France and Italy and French composers of Jommelli’s generation continued to write music for it, but it had become less common in Italy by his time. In late Elizabethan England, too, several composers set the text of parts of Lamentations, though the lessons from that book, retained in the 1549 and 1552 Anglican Prayer Books, had been replaced in 1559. The most recent recording of an Elizabethan setting comes on a splendid CD, Hymns, Psalms and Lamentations – Sacred Music by Robert White (Signum SIGCD134) where Gallicantus, directed by Gabriel Crouch sing White’s 6-part setting of part of the same Latin text, Lamentations 1 8-13. (See review here.)

Jommelli sets the whole text, divided into three portions – Lamentazione prima, etc – because the first lesson at Matins is thus divided by versicles and responses suitable for the day. The three passages from Lamentations 1 from the first Nocturn of Matins. Each verse is preceded by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a reminder that the original Hebrew text forms an acrostic – a poem with each section beginning with the letters of the alphabet in order. These Hebrew letters form part of the setting, as also do the opening words Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiæ prophetæ – here begins the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah. At the end of each section is added the words Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum – Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back to the Lord your God. The three Nocturns are separated by the singing of appointed psalms from the weekly cycle – in this case Nos. 68-76 (69-77).

None of this is well explained in the booklet, which says merely that different portions of Lamentations were set in different countries and at different times, without saying which portion is included here, or explaining why Jommelli refers to this as music for Wednesday in Holy Week when it’s prescribed in the Roman Breviary for Maundy Thursday.

Jomelli, regarded by many of his contemporaries as the greatest opera composer of the century, sets the lamentations in a dramatic and religio-operatic style as a duet between two high voices. Gérard Lesne receives higher billing than Véronique Gens on the cover of the CD, but they both sing exquisitely well – too well, perhaps, for the music to be regarded in the light of a meditation on the Passion, but that’s the way that Jommelli writes it. Listen to tracks 27-30: at first you would hardly believe that what you hear is a setting of a lament that the heathen have entered the sanctuary of the temple (tr.27). The mood changes dramatically on track 28, in which the speaker concludes that his sufferings have made him vile. After a happily skipping setting of the letter Lamed (tr.29), the most famous words from this chapter receive an appropriately affective treatment: O vos omnes qui transitis per viam – O all you that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow (tr.30) – words repeated on Good Friday in the Improperia or Reproaches. As Peter Wells wrote in his review of Jommelli’s 1749 setting of the Passion, one would hardly know that one was not listening to opera (K617 K617062, 2 CDs – see review).

Sadly, it appears that the K617 recording is no longer available and there are not too many available recordings of Jommelli’s non-operatic music, but his Miserere (overlook the fact that it’s called Misere throughout the track listings) and five other sacred works can be found as an incredibly inexpensive Nuova Era download from UK, for a mere £1.79. The sound is advertised as 192kb/s, but, in fact, there’s only one track at that minimum acceptable level – the rest are at 225, 256 or even the maximum 320kb/s. (Sylva Posser, Giovanna Manci; La Magnifica Communità/Maurizio Ciampi, 59:12 - here).

Jommelli’s Lamentations are a world removed from renaissance polyphony or even the French settings of the previous generation, such as those of Charpentier, also (very well) recorded by Gérard Lesne and Il Seminario Musicale on Virgin (Leçons de Ténèbres, budget-price Virgin 2-CD Veritas 5220212, see review). I referred to Lesne as a vocal treasure on that recording, but he is no less so in Jommelli’s operatic-style setting and he is very well abetted by Véronique Gens and all concerned. Lesne was also the director of the Charpentier recording, a role into which Christophe Rousset, fits equally well here, which is not surprising when he and Véronique Gens had already done well in 1994 by Jommelli’s Armida Abbandonata (Ambroisie AMB9983).

It’s all very affective, in the same way that Jommelli’s music for Armida Abbandonata is. (For the opening Sinfonia of Jomelli’s Armida Abbandonata and two arias, Ah! ti sento, mio povero core and Odio, furor, dispetto, alongside music by Glück, Handel and Haydn, try the Sony CD Armida, Annette Dasch and the Bavarian Kammerphilharmonie conducted by David Syrus, 88697100592 – see review.)

With very good recording, these excellent performances of this affective music can be confidently recommended – apart from that crucial absence of texts and translations, which I have sought to remedy for potential purchasers. At its new mid-price it’s well worth considering.

Brian Wilson

Text and translation: Lamentations 1 1-14

Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiæ prophetæ

ALEPH Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo!
Facta est quasi vidua domina gentium;
princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo.
BETH Plorans ploravit in nocte, et lacrimæ ejus in maxillis ejus:
non est qui consoletur eam, et omnibus caris ejus;
omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimici.
GHIMEL Migravit Judas propter afflictionem, et multitudinem servitutis;
habitavit inter gentes, nec invenit requiem:
omnes persecutores ejus apprehenderunt eam inter angustias.
DALETH Viæ Sion lugent, eo quod non sint qui veniant ad solemnitatem:
omnes portæ ejus destructæ, sacerdotes ejus gementes;
virgines ejus squalidæ, et ipsa oppressa amaritudine.
HE Facti sunt hostes ejus in capite; inimici ejus locupletati sunt:
quia Dominus locutus est super eam propter multitudinem iniquitatum ejus.
Parvuli ejus ducti sunt in captivitatem ante faciem tribulantis.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
VAU Et egressus est a filia Sion omnis decor ejus;
facti sunt principes ejus velut arietes non invenientes pascua,
et abierunt absque fortitudine ante faciem subsequentis.
ZAIN Recordata est Jerusalem dierum afflictionis suæ,
et prævaricationis, omnium desiderabilium suorum,
quæ habuerat a diebus antiquis, cum caderet populus ejus in manu hostili,
et non esset auxiliator: viderunt eam hostes, et deriserunt sabbata ejus.
HETH Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem, propterea instabilis facta est;
omnes qui glorificabant eam spreverunt illam,
quia viderunt ignominiam ejus: ipsa autem gemens conversa est retrorsum.
TETH Sordes ejus in pedibus ejus, nec recordata est finis sui;
deposita est vehementer, non habens consolatorem.
Vide, Domine, afflictionem meam, quoniam erectus est inimicus.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
JODH Manum suam misit hostis ad omnia desiderabilia ejus,
quia vidit gentes ingressas sanctuarium suum,
de quibus præceperas ne intrarent in ecclesiam tuam.
KAPH Omnis populus ejus gemens, et quærens panem;
dederunt pretiosa quæque pro cibo ad refocillandam animam.
Vide, Domine, et considera quoniam facta sum vilis!
LAMED O vos omnes qui transitis per viam,
attendite, et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus!
quoniam vindemiavit me,
ut locutus est Dominus, in die iræ furoris sui.
MEM De excelso misit ignem in ossibus meis, et erudivit me:
expandit rete pedibus meis, convertit me retrorsum;
posuit me desolatam, tota die mœrore confectam.
NUN Vigilavit jugum iniquitatum mearum;
in manu ejus convolutæ sunt, et impositæ collo meo.
Infirmata est virtus mea: dedit me Dominus in manu de qua non potero surgere.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.

Here begins the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah.

Aleph. How the city sits solitary that was full of people! how has the mistress of the Gentiles become as a widow: the princess of provinces made tributary!
Beth. Weeping, she has wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: there is none to comfort her among all them that were dear to her: all her friends have despised her, and have become her enemies.
Ghimel. Judah has removed her dwelling place, because of her affliction, and the greatness of her bondage; she has dwelt among the nations, and she has found no rest; all her persecutors have taken her in the midst of straits.
Daleth. The ways of Sion mourn, because there are none that come to the solemn feast: all her gates are broken down; her priests sigh; her virgins are in affliction; and she is oppressed with bitterness.
He. Her adversaries have become her lords; her enemies are enriched; because the Lord has spoken against her for the multitude of her iniquities; her children are led into captivity, before the face of the oppressor.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord your God.
Vau. And from the daughter of Sion, all her beauty is departed; her princes are become like rams that find no pastures; and they are gone away without strength before the face of the pursuer.
Zain. Jerusalem has remembered the days of her affliction and prevarication, of all her desirable things which she had from the days of old, when her people fell into the enemy’s hand, and there was no helper; the enemies have seen her, and have mocked at her Sabbaths.
Heth. Jerusalem has grievously sinned, therefore she has become unstable; all that honoured her have despised her, because they have seen her shame; but she sighed, and turned backward.
Teth. Her filthiness is on her feet, and she has not remembered her end; she is wonderfully cast down, not having a comforter: behold, O Lord, my affliction, because the enemy is lifted up.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord your God.
Jod. The enemy has put out his hand to all her desirable things: for she has seen the Gentiles enter into her sanctuary, of whom thou gavest commandment that they should not enter into thy church.
Caph. All her people sigh, they seek bread: they have given all their precious things for food to relieve the soul: see, O Lord, and consider, for I have become vile.
Lamed. O all you that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow: for he has made a vintage of me, as the Lord spoke in the day of his fierce anger.
Mem. From above he has sent fire into my bones, and has chastised me: he has spread a net for my feet, he has turned me back: he has made me desolate, wasted with sorrow all the day long.
Nun. The yoke of my iniquities has watched: they are folded together in his hand, and put upon my neck: my strength is weakened: the Lord has delivered me into a hand, out of which I am not able to rise.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord your God.


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