Il tormento e l'estasi
? Luigi ROSSI (c.1597-1653)
Un peccator pentito (Mi son fatto nemico), cantata à 5 [27:38]
Domenico MAZZOCCHI (1592-1665)
Pentito si rivolge a Dio, aria à 3 [3:23]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Passacaglio [4:45]
Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605-1674)
Historia di Jephte, oratorio à 6 [28:14]
Los Músicos de Su Alteza/Luis Antonio González
rec. September 2010, Iglesia San Miguel, Daroca (Saragossa), Spain. DDD
ALPHA 183 [64:10]

This disc brings together two of the most celebrated Italian composers of the 17th century. Luigi Rossi was especially famous for his operas and cantatas. He worked in Rome and Naples, and also stayed in Paris on several occasions. His music was well-known in France, and that had everything to do with the fact that he was in the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a francophile and had good contacts in France. Here Rossi found the protection of Cardinal Mazarin, himself of Italian birth. Although the performance of his opera Orfeo in Paris in 1647 wasn't an unqualified success, it made a great impression on French composers of the time. Lully - also of Italian origin - also felt its influence.
Rossi's oeuvre comprises very few sacred works. Un peccator pentito is preserved anonymously. It has been recorded before - by Les Arts Florissants - under the name of Luigi Rossi. There are several reasons for that. "The immediate attribution of the score to Luigi Rossi was based on its style, but also on the fact that it appears in the Barberini Collection with other works signed by the composer". So writes Luis Antonio González in the programme-notes. It is described in the sources as an oratorio volgare (an oratorio in the vernacular) but also as a cantata morale. It is scored for five voices, two violins and bc. Three characters evocatively lament their sins. González writes that these parts are "taken by low voices in our version". From this I have to conclude that they were transposed; I don't know what the original scoring was as I have no access to Les Arts Florissants' recording. I can't see the need for a transposition. A fourth character, scored for a soprano, appears and declares God's willingness to forgive, referring to the Cross: "This sacred, majestic Wood is no court of wrath, but a throne of mercy". The soli are mostly in the form of recitatives followed by short arias. There are also various trios. The piece ends with a madrigale a 5: "Soften, o cruel hearts, before this transpierced Love!".
This cantata is followed by an aria with the same subject, Pentito si rivolge a Dio (A repentant sinner turns to God), scored for three voices and basso continuo. The sinner asks to be tortured and scourged for his sins. Domenico Mazzocchi was especially known for his oratorios. He was born in Civita Castellana where he studied at the seminary. He took lower orders in 1606 and was ordained priest in 1619. In 1614 he had settled in Rome where he obtained the right of citizenship. Like Rossi he was under the protection of the Barberini family.
The most influential composer of oratorios was Giacomo Carissimi. In 1629 he became maestro di cappella of the Jesuit Collegio Germanico in Rome, where students from German-speaking countries received a theological education with everything that was connected to it. One of those things was music: Carissimi was responsible for the musical performances at the Collegio and for the music classes as well. But he also attracted pupils from outside the Collegio. Among the most famous were Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Johann Caspar Kerll, Christoph Bernhard and perhaps also Agostino Steffani.
The Historia di Jephte is one of his best-known oratorios. The subject is a chance of a lifetime for a composer of Carissimi's dramatic talent. It has everything: a social outlaw is asked to command his people in a battle and leads it to victory, only to find out then that the jubilation is short-lived as he has to sacrifice his daughter to God as a consequence of his own thoughtless vow. Carissimi has exploited the contrasts in this story to the full. The oratorio starts with the Historicus telling that the people of Israel are suppressed by the Ammonites and that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephtha and that he promises the Lord: "If the Lord shall deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, I promise that whatever comes first to me from my home shall be sacrificed to the Lord". Then follows the description of the battle with the Ammonites, in a sequences of choruses and soli, written in the stile concitato. What follows then is a very moving description of the lament of the Ammonites, where Carissimi makes use of a four-note bass figure which is often used in laments in the 17th century. When Jephtha returns home he is greeted by his daughter, leading the jubilations of the people. It is only short-lived, as he has to tell her about his vow to God. All of a sudden the music shifts from major to minor. In Jephtha's daughter's lament of her fate - "Plorate colles, dolete montes" - Carissimi uses another popular phenomenon in Italian dramatic music of the early baroque: the echo. Then the chorus joins her: "Plorate, filii Israel, plorate, omnes virgines". Here Carissimi returns to the bass figure he used in the description of the lamenting Ammonites.
Pieces like these were instrumental in the attempts of the Counter Reformation to strengthen the faith of members of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore the text is of crucial importance and the delivery should be excellent. That is the case here. At the same time the musical means which composers used to move their audiences need to be realised to the full. Carissimi was a master in this department, as the famous theorist Athanasius Kircher stated. "[Through] his genius and the felicity of his compositions, [he] surpasses all others in moving the minds of listeners to whatever affection he wishes". Jephte is a brilliant example; Kircher had great admiration for the closing chorus: Carissimi "composes with such skill that you would swear you could hear their sobbings and lamentations". Los Músicos de su Alteza give a very fine account of this oratorio, and the closing chorus comes off impressively. Soprano Olalla Alemán also deserves praise for her performance as Jephtha's daughter. I don't find all the voices that attractive, but the singers all bring their texts across effectively, and fully explore the expression in these compositions. That is all that counts.
This is a compelling disc including some masterpieces of the 17th century.
Johan van Veen

A compelling disc including some masterpieces of the 17th century.

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