Carissimi: Vanitas vanitatum; Serenata sciolto havean dall’alte sponde; Missa ‘Sciolto havean dall’alte sponde’ (with organ interludes by Frescobaldi)

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COMPOSERS: Carissimi
LABELS: Cypres
ALBUM TITLE: Carissimi
WORKS: Vanitas vanitatum; Serenata sciolto havean dall’alte sponde; Missa ‘Sciolto havean dall’alte sponde’ (with organ interludes by Frescobaldi)
PERFORMER: Namur Chamber Choir; La Fenice/Jean Tubéry (cornet)
CATALOGUE NO: CYP 1644
These three fine pieces by Carissimi are new to the current catalogue. Vanitas vanitatum, a meditation on the transience of earthly life, uses five soloists, choir and lavish continuo. A visiting Frenchman described, in 1639, the continuo range available – bowed chordal lirone and viola da gamba, deep violone, triple-harp, organ and harpsichord – creating here a kaleidoscope of colours. Carissimi set the solo lines in recitative. Though Tubéry retains the flexibility of ‘speaking in music’, it’s sufficiently measured to avoid rhythmic meandering, while the choral ritornello ‘Vanity of vanities…’ has an uplifting spring. 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 acoustic of a church in Liège adds bloom and a sense of space, while leaving every detail crystal-clear. An effective recording/staging trick takes the choir into the distance as worldly power turns to ‘dust and ashes’.

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Though the secular cantata Sciolto havean… describes the pains of love in vivid musical detail, it adapts surprisingly effectively to the words of the Mass through the so-called ‘parody’ technique. Interludes by Frescobaldi on an organ beautifully tuned to an unequal temperament complete an exceptional disc.

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George Pratt