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Recordings

Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa
20 Jan 2008

Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa

Despite an unsurprising degree of conservatism in liturgical music, devotional life in Rome often found ways of taking advantage of modern musical style.

Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa

Maria Cristina Kiehr, soprano; Concerto Soave, Jean-Marc Aymes, Director.

Harmonia Mundi HMC901952 [CD]

$19.99  Click to buy

The birth and development of the oratorio, for instance, is a rich example of this, with Roman prayer halls harnessing contemporary theatrical music to evangelical ends. And certain liturgical contexts also seemed to invite modern expressive touches. The triduum sacrum, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week, is a case in point; Tenebrae, the Office of Matins for these days, focuses on the poignant texts of the Lamentations of Jeremiah , the affective extremes of which were very well suited to the stile moderno. Much as the operatic lament became popular in the seventeenth century for its affective depth, so too did settings of the Lessons of Tenebrae.

The recording Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa features a composite of Tenebrae settings by Roman composers, such as Carissimi, Frescobaldi, and Giovanni Francesco Marcorelli, all preserved in a single Bolognese manuscript (Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale Q 43). Much of the music is recitative in character, some of it evocative of chant, though the Hebrew letters that preface the scriptural passages are often sublimely lyrical. And on occasion, the treatment of specific words will elicit a madrigalian touch. Carissimi’s music here is somewhat restrained and controlled; Marcorelli’s language is more extravagant in its musical rhetoric and expressive idiom; but all of the settings manifest the close synergy of affection and music that was fundamental to the new musical style. The settings then are intensely expressive, though rarely expansive. One exception might be one of the anonymous works where the Hebrew letters, instead of only prefacing the verses, come back internally as ritornelli, allowing for a more developed landscape.

The performances are impressive, rich in style and sensuous sound. Soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr sings with notable flexibility and pliancy—the wafting taper of some of her notes is simply stunning—and her tone quality seems almost paradoxically to be both pure and rich in body at the same time, somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish soprano, Montserrat Figueras. The contributions of Concerto Soave, a continuo ensemble of viol, harp, lute, lirone, and claviorganum, are strong. Certainly the richness of the sound owes much to the instrumental palette. And the accompaniment of the lirone—a bowed viol played chordal—is simply sublime. The size and variety of the ensemble allow for a number of different configurations, an “orchestrational” opportunity that is used to good effect here, as well.

The recording includes several instrumental pieces, democratically featuring the different players of keyboard, harp, lute, and viol. The keyboard “interlude,” a toccata by Michelangelo Rossi, gives the rare chance to hear the unusual sound of the composite instrument, the claviorganum. The claviorganum combines both harpsichord and organ in one instrument; here, through the use of two manuals, one can play florid passages on the harpsichord while rendering chordal accompaniment on the organ, well serving the structure of Rossi’s piece.

In Lamentazioni per Settimana Santa we hear the stunning musical echoes of the rich devotional life of seventeenth-century Rome. Brought to life through performances of great beauty, this is a recording to savor.

Steven Plank

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