The Story of Jonas – Carissimi

I came across Carissimi’s Jonas a few years ago, having known and performed Jephte many times. Carissimi is one of those composers that undergraduates can easily think of as a one hit wonder. We all learn about the stunning word setting in Plorate Colles which brings Jephte to such a moving close. History lecturers with a syllabus covering centuries move quickly on to the next composer, era, genre or often all three. For many musicians, Carissimi remains the guy who wrote that amazing lament at the end of one of his oratorios, Jephte I think it was called. I believe he wrote a few others too! Depending on the amount of background reading there is a good chance Job and Jonas might come to mind. I often find myself wishing I had done more background ( I should say supplementary! ) listening given that we were music students, but in my defense I could point out that performances of works like these were pretty rare in those days.

Working on Jephte over the years I always found myself thinking how much I would like to investigate the other works. My chance came last year when I intended to do Jonas at the Zêzere Arts Festival 2012. Practical issues got in the way and Jephte filled the gap. I still remember, though, the bass singing and the first double chorus early in this recording which re-inspired me.

Carissimi’s music comes at a time when clarity of expression and audibility of text were considered of the utmost importance. The thing is that in the hands of a great composer, drama and musical expression cannot be kept down. The style may be somewhat austere but Carissimi provides an under-current of powerful emotional expression wonderfully brought out in this recording. I am hugely looking forward to directing this work in such an extraordinary venue this summer. Enjoy! and if you enjoy it enough you could think about coming to Tomar in August to sing it with us in the Convento de Cristo.

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