At the beginning of the 17th century, Italy was in a state of ferment following the Catholic reform still known as the Counter-Reformation. The Church decided around that time to channel man’s relationship with the divine through the emotions: the senses were to play their part in the seduction and conquest of souls. Simultaneously, there appeared a new kind of art which spoke to those emotions, reconciling the sacred and the profane: so the oratorio came into being.
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) was born into this age, as was opera. After working as maestro di cappella at St. Rufino Cathedral in Assisi, he moved to Rome, where he was appointed maestro di cappella at the German College, one of the most renowned centres of the day devoted to the training of priests from all over Europe. An eminent teacher, Carissimi numbered among his most outstanding pupils Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Johann Caspar Kerll. Carissimi was held in high esteem by his contemporaries both in Italy and throughout Europe, and his compositions were widely copied and circulated in manuscript form.
However, to speak of Giacomo Carissimi exclusively in the context of the oratorio would be to ignore the much wider range of his work, which stands as a true flagship of Italian Baroque art. Fortunately, the three pieces selected for this CD offer a broader sweep of the composer\'s work. The album opens with an oratorio, or rather a work half-way between an oratorio and a motet: Vanitas Vanitatum, a work only rarely recorded and yet one which has great evocative power. It is followed by an example of Carissimi’s considerable output of secular music, the cantata Sciolto havean, a metaphor of the torments of love, which tells the story of two lovers tossed by a violent sea whose sights are set on the tranquil shore. The CD concludes with the sumptuous Missa Sciolto havean dall’alte sponde, the only mass that can with certainty be attributed to Carissimi, which is a musical parody or “contrafactum”, the adaptation of a profane work as the basis for a piece of sacred music. The similarity between this work and the aforementioned cantata is manifestly clear, the result being a splendid reflection of the Baroque spirit of the 17th century.
This true portrait of Carissimi is skilfully brought to life by Jean Tubéry and his ensemble La Fenice, together with the Namur Chamber Choir. The performers, both moving and magnificent, are fitting interpreters of the music.
“These three fine pieces by Carissimi are new to the current catalogue. Among the soloists, drawn from the choir, I was struck by the glorious soprano of Caroline Weynants, but all are refreshingly direct and uncomplicated. …the secular cantata Sciolto havean... describes the pains of love in vivid musical detail... Interludes by Frescobaldi on an organ beautifully tuned to an unequal temperament complete an exceptional disc.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2006 *****