Carissimi: Mass for three voices; Motets

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COMPOSERS: Carissimi
WORKS: Mass for three voices; Motets
PERFORMER: Consortium Carissimi/Vittorio Zanon
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555075
Carissimi left his music to the Roman Collegio Germanico, where he had worked for nearly 50 years, and a Papal decree forbade its removal. Yet within a century some was sold as waste paper, some pillaged in the Napoleonic invasion. What remains are numerous copies, some spurious as his fame attracted false attributions. Whether or not this Mass is authentic (it escaped the notice of New Grove II), it’s a rare find. It reflects Carissimi’s pictorial imagination, revealed in his oratorios: the Credo opens with rising ardour; ‘Deum de Deo’ is expanded by a ground bass; another ground generates some inventive variations from voices over the constantly reiterated harmony. The six motets, too, are full of word-painting as Carissimi misses no opportunity of depicting a rushing ‘wind’, ‘sounds of terror’ with an urgent concitato repetition of a single chord, or ‘tribulation and suffering’ wrung out in poignant suspensions.


The three male voices are refreshingly uncluttered, virtually undisturbed by vibrato, with impeccable intonation. Despite their blend, each is distinctive. Particularly striking is the tenor taking on an alto role (helped by well-justified low pitch) with a light ‘haute-contre’ quality. Instrumental continuo is similarly colourful, ringing the changes of theorbo, organ and harpsichord. George Pratt