Charpentier: Sacrifiium Abrahae, Carissimi: Historia di Jepthe - Bates
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807588
Classical - Vocal
Charpentier: Sacrifiium Abrahae; Le Reniement de Saint Pierre, H 424
Carissimi: Historia di Jepthe
Brossard: Symphonies pour le Graduel, SDB 228 & 229; Sonate en trio, SDB 221
La Nuova Musica
David Bates leads La Nuova Musica in Sacrifices - a program of intensely dramatic oratorios from the middle Baroque. Included are Carissimi's Historia di Jephte and Charpentier's Sacrificium Abrahae and Le Reniement de Saint Pierre. The vocal selections are interspersed with instrumental music by Sébastien de Brossard. Since their founding in 2012, critical praise for Bates and La Nuova Musica has been unanimous. The group's harmonia mundi label debut featured a world première on CD of the 1712 version of Handel's Il pastor fido.
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Review by John Miller - August 7, 2014
La Nuova Musica is a vocal and period-instrument instrumental ensemble based in England. They are dedicated to reinvigorating the music of the European Renaissance and Baroque, an aim which has been going from strength to strength across the globe and is highly praised. In an immaculate production by Harmoni Mundi France, LNM present a compilation of French and Italian sacred music from the middle years of the Baroque, mainly in the format later called 'Oratorio'.
The Roman Catholic period of Catholic revival of the Church from Luther's Reformation began with the protracted Council of Trent (1545–1563) and was soon spearheaded by the militant Jesuit fraternity in Italy, led by Ignatius Loyola. In their war to win men's souls, the Jesuits widely encouraged the Liberal Arts - music, architecture, painting and sculpture. The subjects for these arts were guided towards re-educating the laity with the spirituality of drama and deep emotion contained in the Old and New Testaments, so performances of music focussed to this end were an important tool.
Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) became a pioneer in using the styles of the new musical form known as Opera to provide vocal and instrumental in sacred settings, based on biblical themes or events. His invention was a perfect fit to Jesuit objectives, so he and his followers were greatly encouraged in their efforts. Kircher, a prominent German Jesuit, said of Carissimi in 1650 that he had the absolute power to "move the minds of listeners to whatever affection he wishes". Carissimi's oratorio 'Historia di Jepthe' (?1649) is regarded as his best in this form and concentrates on sections from the book of Judges, the Biblical history of the Israelite's settlement of Canaan, in which Jephthah is an heroic Judge/General.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) visited Rome as a young man, and studied with the highly-regarded Carissimi (during a time when the Italian Style was popular in French music). He returned to France and began to write Franco-Italian examples of 'Oratorio', the name which had been bestowed on the sacred dramas because their performances were initially held in the prayer-room (oratorio) of large Italian churches. La Nuova Musica present two of Charpentier's oratorios, which demonstrate his astonishing modernity, puzzling as how the French critics perceived his work. 'Peter's Denial of Christ' and 'The Sacrifice of Abraham' also clearly show how much he had gained from study of maestro Carissimi's esteemed output.
The third composer in this album is Sébastien de Brossard (1655-1730), a prominent French collector of books on music, writer of dictionaries and a composer, although he had little formal tuition in the subject. His instrumental music, in galante and French styles, is attractive, tuneful and lively. In this programme, his "Symphonies" of single or double strings and continuo are interspersed with the oratorios; it is thought likely this was done in the Baroque church programmes to keep the laity interested. A similar programme arrangement was used by Handel, with his interpolations of organ concertos between the acts of his operas.
David Bates, as director of LNM, has gathered a highly skilled and motivated set of around a dozen or so singers and instrumentalists. The singers in particular generate the Baroque 'affect' from the very dramatic Oratorio texts (in Latin), sounding as if they were spontaneously acting their parts as if in opera. The spirituality of these dramas also comes across vividly and powerfully, and the whole programme makes a very satisfactory and intensive Baroque experience.
Harmonia Mundi France provides an ideally clean, detailed recording from the two venues of St Johns in Smith Square, London (2014) and Snape Maltings, Suffolk, UK. The latter might be thought to have have a more reverberant and spacious environment, but the engineers and producers have managed to quite closely match the acoustic environments. There is a substantial booklet, with the wonderful cover of a Rembrandt painting showing an angel stopping Abraham just in time from cutting his son's head off. There is a contextual essay by Gawain Glenton which provides plenty of information, although in very small print. Biblical texts are in French, Latin, English and German and are conveniently laid out.
For lovers of Baroque sacred music this album offers evidence of the latest scholarship and production of oratorio performances of key works from composers who pioneered the medium - and added fuel to the Jesuits campaign of the counter-Reformation. HIghly recommended.
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