Giacomo Carissimi (1605 - 1674) and Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - 1704): Latin Oratorios: Ionas; Jephte (Carissimi) / Le Reniement de Saint Pierre (Charpentier). Performed by Élisabeth Baudry, soprano; Hervé Lamy, tenor [and numerous other soloists]; Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal, dir. Christopher Jackson. Recorded in Montreal, Canada, probably in 1995. Published by Analekta on its "Fleurs de lys" label. Total playing time: approx. 53 minutes.
Although today not very much is known about Giacomo Carissimi, he appears to have been one of the key figures in the development of the "oratorio" in the first half of the seventeenth century. Carissimi was Maestro di capella at the Collegium Hungaricum in Rome from 1629 until his death in 1674, was ordained in 1637 and also produced works for the Arciconfraternita del SS. Crocifisso. Francois Filiatrault's notes to this album make much of the use of oratorium as a kind of copy of the opera in the service of the Counter-Reformation Jesuits, but it seems there were only limited opportunities for Carissimi to supervise actual performances of his works, whose fame was spread in the 17th century more by word of mouth and hand-copied manuscript than by printed edition. Of the two Latin oratorios sung here, it is the second, Jephte, which is probably the earlier, having its first performance, as far as this can be established with any certainty, before 1650. "Ionas", with which the disc begins, was probably written some time between 1650 and 1660. Both need only around 20 minutes each and consist of reproductions of the Biblical stories, narrated by several soloists and a choir. The highlights are the "storm" scene in Ionas, where Carissimi divides his choir into eight voices, and the prayer of Jonah from the stomach of the whale; in "Jephte" it is the rejoicing of Jephtha's daughter after the successful battle and then the sudden reversal when Jephtha is forced to tell her that he has sworn to sacrifice her in thanksgiving for the victory.
Although Carissimi and Marc-Antoine Charpentier belonged to different nations and different generations, putting their works together on one disc is not as abstruse as one might imagine. In fact, Charpentier went to Rome as a young man to study art, and it was there that he first heard Carissimi's music and was so enthusiastic that he decided to become a musician himself and study with him. "Le Reniement de Saint Pierre" (St. Peter's Denial of Christ) is a very early work of the young Charpentier which may, in fact, have originated before Charpentier returned to France (where he at first worked as maitre de chapelle for the Duchess of Guise before later taking appointments at Paris churches). The oratorio "Le Reniement de Saint Pierre" is here sandwiched between the two works of Carissimi, and anyone coming to this with no knowledge of the background might, in fact, not notice that two different composers are at work, so similar is the sound of all three oratorios. There are subtle differences, of course, but Charpentier had still, at this juncture, not fully developed his own style.
The performance is what I would call "solid", meaning that it is entertaining and well-recorded but without real highlights. I can only speculate about some of Christopher Jackson's decisions, as the CD itself, at least in the download version, offers virtually no information. This material can be performed either with soloists only or as choral works, and Jackson appears to have decided for the choral version, although his choir is not enormous. I have to agree with another reviewer that the precision in the choir is not always perfect. I would also query the Latin pronunciation, particularly with the Charpentier piece, which is here treated as Church Latin and not given the French pronunciation which one is used to from ensembles such as Les Arts Florissants or Il Seminario Musicale. The soloists vary in form, with tenor Hervé Lamy making a very good impression, particularly in Jonah's prayer from the depths. The instruments used are varied, the continuo consisting sometimes of harpsichord, sometimes of a lute (theorbo?) and sometimes of a chamber organ with or without the lute.