Carissimi: Jephte, Jonas / Consortium Carissimi

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The essence of Carissimi’s greatness lies in the powerful simplicity with which he promulgates his message, a crucial factor in communicating to his contemporary audiences in the oratories of Rome. This is summed up in the great final six-part chorus of lamentation in Jephte, the most famous of the Latin oratorios. Here, there is no contrived lieto fine as there is in Handel’s great oratorio composed a hundred years later, simply a final, devastatingly direct climax to the tragedy. Even today, even after the untold expansion of harmonic language that has taken place since Jephte was composed, it has the power to move to tears, although we know Jephte’s daughter must go to her sacrifice to meet his vow to God. It comes off effectively in this new performance, although one might wish the vocal parts had not been doubled. Still, that is more satisfactory than Gardiner’s use of full choral forces in his pioneering, if now outmoded, 1988 recording.

In all other respects, these performances are very good indeed, being thoroughly idiomatic, and in general terms exceedingly well sung by the large vocal ensemble. The exchanges between Jephte and his unnamed daughter after the discovery of the rash results of his vow are done to infinitely touching effect by bass Marco Scavazza and the appropriately virginal-sounding soprano Nadia Caristi, who is also outstandingly sympathetic in the daughter’s lament with echo. That includes another example of Carissimi’s innovative harmonic language in the use of Neapolitan sixths, the affective dissonant device later to become a cliché, but here employed to fresh, striking effect.

Jonas, which is roughly contemporary with Jephte (c. 1650), tells the famous story of Jonah and the whale in colorfully dramatic terms. At its heart lie two great episodes, the powerful double eight-part chorus depicting the fury of the storm that assails the vessel in which Jonah is sailing, a passage that has an analogy with “Quam magna,” the overwhelming chorus in Extremum Dei judicium describing the terrors of the Day of Judgement, and Jonah’s magnificent aria of supplication from within the whale. With its refrain “Placare Domine” (“Subside your anger, Lord”), it sends out a strong message, reinforced by another magnificent concluding chorus, part penitential, part hopeful, that would have sent Carissimi’s congregation away from the Oratorio del Ss Crocifisso not only entertained, but in the right Lenten spirit. The performance is again very fine, with an excellent Jonah from tenor Fabio Furnari.

The final work here is a curiosity, a previously unrecorded secular serenade scored originally for two sopranos and bass, but here given by tenor, high baritone, and bass, who alternate between solos, duets, and trios. The text is a dense, high-flown (and at times near-impenetrable) piece of philosophical musing inspired and colored by night. Nonetheless, it allowed Carissimi some effective opportunities for tone painting, not least in the verse beginning “Notte gelida e serena” (“Cold and serene night”), set as a very beautiful, largely imitative duet that captures perfectly the imagery of the serenity of a sleep that eases the pain of afflicted mortals. This is without doubt a significant and important addition to the discography of Carissimi, whose claim to be considered, along with Monteverdi, as one of the greatest of 17th-century Italian composers becomes increasingly strong in the face of issues such as this.

Brian Robins, FANFARE


Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: 8557390


  • UPC: 747313239023


  • Label: Naxos


  • Composer: Giacomo Carissimi


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Consortium Carissimi