Rare Oratorios from the Seventeenth Century

United StatesUnited States  Carissimi and Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Stephen Stubbs (music director), Guillaume Bernardi (stage director), Christine Meyers (costume designer), Reed Nakayama (lighting designer), Josh Rietveldt (stage manager), solo singers and instrumentalists, St James Cathedral, Seattle, 13.1.2012 (BJ)

There are others doing fine work performing baroque and earlier music – notably Ingrid Matthews and Byron Schenkman with their Seattle Baroque Orchestra and Karen Thomas with her Seattle Pro Musica choir – but some of the most spectacular offerings in the field continue to come from Pacific MusicWorks and the organization’s charismatic music director, Stephen Stubbs. Drawing on his varied talents as conductor and instrumentalist – playing chitarrone and harpsichord – Stubbs this time offered a beautifully planned and profoundly satisfying program comprising three short oratorios by Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) and one, as well as an organ piece, by his pupil Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704).

Carissimi’s Abraham and Isaac, Jephte, and Job, and Charpentier’s Le Reniement de St Pierre, were presented in the Toronto-based director Guillaume Bernardi’s unpretentiously dramatic and admirably serious staged versions. Restrained gestures combined with costumes and lighting to make a powerful impression on the audience, and in the sumptuous acoustics of St James Cathedral, Stubbs elicited eloquent playing from harpist Maxine Eilander, gambist Margriet Tindemans, bassist Moriah Neils, and organist Joseph Adam, who also gave a strong account of Charpentier’s solo Ouverture pour un Reposoir.

All eight of the singers involved acquitted themselves splendidly. Tenor Ross Hauck was equally compelling as the Historicus, or narrator, in Abraham and Isaac, in the title role in Jephte, and as Jesus in the Charpentier work. Charles Robert Stephens made an appropriately dignified and richly sonorous Deus in the Abraham piece and a forceful narrator in the Charpentier, and his fellow baritone Tyler Duncan portrayed a suitably tormented Abraham and, in Job, a Diabolus of slyly effective malice.

A sizeable proportion of the audience may well have been encountering both of the composers for the first time, though many must have heard some Charpentier without being aware of it, since a rondeau of his is used as the European Broadcasting Union’s signature tune and accompanies the opening credits of such broadcasts as that of the annual Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s concert. However that may be, this fine concert-cum-theatrical evening made the best possible case for Carissimi and Charpentier alike as masters we ought to hear more often.

Bernard Jacobson