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Giacomo CARISSIMI (1605 - 1674): "Oratorio delle SS Vergine - Jonas"

Complesso Pro Musica Firenze
Dir: Gabriele Micheli
rec: July 2003, Greve in Chianti, Florence, Chiesa di Lamole
Tactus - TC 602802 ( 2006) (54'34")

Historia di Jonas; Oratorio delle SS Vergine

Sabrina Guidotti, Barbara Nizzi, soprano; Tiziana Somigli, contralto; Roberto Casi, Umberto Nizzi, Francesco Sclaveran, tenor; Umberto Baldini, Franco Viciani, bass;
Davide Monti, Angelo Bartoletti, violin; Jean Marie Quint, basse de violon; Pierluigi Ciapparelli, theorbo; Gabriele Micheli, organ

This disc contains two very different oratorios. The Oratorio delle SS Vergine is one of only two which are written on an Italian text, instead of Latin. It seems to be an early composition, as it is stylistically rather close to the works of Monteverdi. The two violins play the Sinfonia with which the oratorio opens, some ritornellos and also take part in the choruses. This oratorio has only one protagonist, the Virgin Mary. The first part describes how Mary fights the devil and beats him, the second part is a jubilation about the Virgin's victory.

Whereas this oratorio is a meditative piece, the Historia di Jonas is much more dramatic, as it tells the story of the prophet Jonah, who is ordered by God to tell the people of Nineveh to turn away from their sins and convert to God. Jonah tries to escape on a ship, but God causes a storm. In order to save their ship and their lives the sailors throw Jonah into the sea. He is swallowed by a fish and cries to God from the belly of the fish. God orders the fish to spit him out on a beach. He goes to Nineveh and the people of the city convert to God, which is expressed in the closing chorus. Carissimi makes use of the cori spezzati technique, and the parts of the violins are more extended and virtuosic, in particular in the closing chorus, than in the Oratorio della SS Vergine.

Unfortunately this disc can't be considered a worthwhile contribution to the discography of Carissimi's works. This is not the only Tactus release where I have to complain about the technical quality of the recording. During the whole disc there are many background noises, like turning pages, which suggests this is a live recording. But there is no mention of this. If this is really a studio recording, than these noises are unacceptable. And this disc also has crackles as if this was a vinyl.

The interpretation isn't much better than the technical quality, I'm afraid. Most voices are stylistically more at home in the 19th century than in the 17th. They are apparently trained to produce sound rather than text. It is hardly surprising, then, that they don't blend very well. The tempi are much too slow. Some time ago I reviewed another recording of this oratorio, by the Consortium Carissimi (Naxos 8.557390), which I wasn't satisfied with either, but the difference in duration of Historia di Jonas between the two recordings is revealing: the Naxos recording takes just 10 minutes less than this one. Due to the slow tempi there is no little real interaction between the characters, as there are too long gaps within the dialogues.

One of the features of the choruses in Carissimi's oratorios is the repetition of motifs at different pitches. The dramatic effect of this compositional technique is completely lost here, due to the slow tempo and the undifferentiated loud singing. The violins are playing very well - their playing is the only aspect of this recording I really enjoyed.

There is so much wrong with this disc - musically and technically - that the fact the booklet has no translation of the lyrics doesn't really matter. Musically this is a missed opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the growing interest in Carissimi's oeuvre. It is also really time for the producers to get their act together. One can't expect people to buy discs when there is a pretty big chance they are technically deficient.

Johan van Veen ( 2006)

Relevant links:

Giacomo Carissimi

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