Vanitas Vanitatum - Rome 1650
Carissimi’s name is inseparable from the origins and early history of the oratorio in Rome. Based for the most part on incidents from the Old Testament set to Latin texts, his best-known works in the style attracted a wide public and were copied and transmitted throughout Italy and beyond. It is these works, above all Jepthe and Jonas (together with the cantatas), that have in turn attracted performers, so it is all the more welcome to find Tragicomedia’s new record beginning with something of a rarity, his “Proposui in mente mea” (= Vanitas vanitatum II). Its authorship is still sometimes disputed, but Grove unswervingly accepts it as his and, as Erin Headley’s insert-note remarks, many passages are closely reminiscent of passages in the oratorios. Starting from this piece, Tragicomedia have constructed an ingenious sequence of works by Roman composers on the vanitas theme, including two little-known works by Luigi Rossi and an exquisite rarity by Marco Marazzoli.
Marazzoli’s music is constantly being reassessed as new works come to light, but from the pieces on this record it is clear that he was the equal of Carissimi himself. Structured around a hauntingly beautiful ritornello that is heard four times, Ogni nostro piacer is presented in bright tonal colours (occasionally, but only occasionally do the sopranos go over the top), and is delivered in a rather intense and highly rhetorical manner that is designed to underscore as effectively as possible the central theological message. Both here and elsewhere we are treated to some difficult passagework stunningly executed, and a particularly effective feature is the sensitive and delicate underpinning from a continuo grouping that opts for an intelligent variety of sound without indulging in overelaboration and intrusive ornamentation. The heroes of the hour are undoubtedly John Elwes and Harry van der Kamp, the former a delight in Domenico Mazzocchi’s intensely compressed sonnet setting “Da tutti gli horologi si cava moralita”, the latter on fine virtuoso form in Stefano Landi’s brief but demanding “Superbe colli”. This record is worth having for these two tracks alone, but there are many other good things to savour as well.
There are also some fine singers on the first volume of “Baroque Laments” put out by the soloists of the Cappella Musicale di San Petronio under the direction of Sergio Vartolo. Gloria Banditelli and Patrizia Vaccari have already acquired fine reputations for their performances of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian music, and they are joined here by other members of what is clearly a new wave of Italian performers who have freed singing styles and interpretation of these repertories from the baleful influences of the opera house. Nevertheless, while the intention here is clearly in the right direction, the result doesn’t always quite come off. This is particularly true, curiously enough, of the “Pianto della Madonna”, where Banditelli’s carefully modulated approach (at times strangely undramatic) is undercut by an eccentric organ accompaniment filled with odd silences, intrusive ornaments, strange voicings and altered harmonies. Whimsicalities of this sort mar some of the other tracks, though by way of compensation there is a splendidly dramatic reading of Luigi Rossi’s Lamento di Mustafa e Bajazet.'