Carissimi singers bring a little hedonism to Lenten lessons

20110918 St. Louis in Rome IMGP8057“The Christian season of Lent signifies giving up things, like abstaining from something you enjoy or keeping decorations more minimal and muted. So perhaps enhancing your Lenten experience would be contradictory to its purpose.

But if you want an ear-pleasing history lesson about the sound of 17th century Lenten services, Twin Cities early music group Consortium Carissimi offers a great opportunity this weekend.

Oratories and motets by Italian composers Bonifazio Graziani and Giacomo Carissimi provide the basis for a program that eschews solemnity in favor of engagingly delivered biblical tales. This group’s rich voices and strong instrumental support make them enjoyable enough to almost be a source of guilt.

Graziani’s version of the Adam and Eve story might inspire eye rolls with its account of the birth of patriarchy, but it was splendidly sung Friday night at Minneapolis’ Our Lady of Lourdes Church, particularly by serpent soprano Lisa Habeck and the dusky-voiced Eve of Marita Link.

Though presented in oratorio fashion, the characterizations were nevertheless admirably fleshed out, almost operatic in the amount of passion poured into each phrase. The parable of the prodigal son was a quartet supported chiefly by the subdued sound of viola da gamba and theorbo (ancestors of the cello and guitar, respectively), but it nevertheless felt quite theatrical, especially when soprano Heather Cogswell conveyed the youthful abandon and resigned contrition of the title character.

Yet, the concert’s most powerful moments came when the choir kicked in for the composers’ most complex and luxuriant lines, interweaving their voices in thick harmonies. It was the kind of Lenten experience that could leave you feeling as if you’re gaining so much more than you’re giving up.” – Saint Paul Pioneer Press (Rob Hubbard) February 24, 2012

“The three male singers of Consortium Carissimi have exceptionally strong, resonant voices that they use to maximum expressive effect, and their accompanying partners on theorbo, gamba, violone, organ, and harpsichord fully satisfy a supportive role as well as adding color and flavor to the sound.” – (David Vernier) May 15, 2001

“…These motets have all of the characteristics of the best of the oratorios. Just to take a brief look at the motets not mentioned so far: they are nicely spaced out on the recording with full ensemble pieces alternating with solo motets. I thought it worth setting out these motets clearly so as to demonstrate that this is a disc of musical contrast and variety with each singer equally represented, in music of a high quality, all wonderfully performed.” – (Gary Higginson) August 20, 2001

“…The three male voices are refreshingly uncluttered, virtually undisturbed by vibrato, with impeccable intonation. Despite their blend, each is distinctive. Particularly striking is the tenor taking on an alto role (helped by well-justified low pitch) with a light ‘haute contre’ quality. Instrumental continuo is similarly colourful, ringing the changes of theorbo, organ and harpsichord.”
Performance *****
Sound *****
– BBC Music Magazine (George Pratt) August 2001

“…Das Consortium Carissimi unter Vittorio Zanon weckt mit vorliegender CD das Interesse an seiner Musik, die auf so einfache und dennoch geniale Weise die Möglichkeiten der menschlichen Stimme einsetzt und nahezu ohne instrumentale Begleitung auskommt. Wie damals üblich, kommen lediglich männliche Stimmen zum Einsatz, was der Musik eine warme, ausgeglichene Gesamtstimmung verleiht. Eine echte Entdeckung der letzten Monate.” [sal] Giacomo Carissimi: “Mass For Three Voices / Six Motets”
Der Schallplattenmann sagt
Ausgabe #278, 21. Januar 2002

Les partitions vocales sont truffées de mélismes parfois périlleux et le résultat est assez convaincant dans l’ensemble, mais les chanteurs ne vont pas jusqu’à éliminer tout vibrato. Au continuo (théorbe, orgue ou clavecin), on ajoute parfois violon, violoncelle ou viole de gambe joués avec attention et justesse, et la direction de Vittorio Zanon est vive et sans artifice. Voilà une belle réalisation de cet ensemble italien destiné aux amateurs de musique vocale baroque bien faite. Ten Motets, Giacomo Carissimi – Consortium Carissimi, dir.Vittorio Zanon. Naxos-8.555076.
Inspiration et motets de Carissimi
Bob – Le Cyber Reporter

“…non volevamo perdere l’occasione di segnalare ai nostri lettori un gruppo di altissimo livello come il Consortium Carissimi… Le voci soavi, profonde e intense del gruppo, sostenuto da un nutrito complesso strumentale ci accompagnano e ci seducono tra delicate trame monodiche e complesse polifonie.”
Civiltà del Rinascimento – Aprile 2002
Stefano Pogelli

The singing is remarkably attractive, combining minimal vibrato with a tonal flexibility and an agility perfect for the text-centred aesthetic of early-seventeenth-century music. I unreservedly recommend these beautiful, well-paced and finely fashioned performances.
International Record Review 2001
Christopher Price

A recent review of Santa Agnese Oratorio released by Disques Pierre Verany Paris this summer.
“I have just finished listening to the Carissimi Consortium’s recording of Bernardo Pasquini’s oratorio, Santa Agnese. I can only describe this oratorio recording as the rediscovery of a forgotten jewel, and its performance by the Carissimi Consortium is nothing short of brilliant!!! The instrumental playing is breathtaking while the vocalists breathe real emotion and drama into their delivery. The sheer brilliance of Pasquini’s music demands more recordings of his extant oratorios and operas.”
Thomas R. McCallum, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA