For centuries the Lamentations of Jeremiah have inspired composers to write some of their most expressive music. Originally these lamentations were written by the prophet Jeremiah in reaction to the downfall of Judah and its capital Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple of God and the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon. In the Christian church these texts were considered very appropriate to be recited or sung during the last three days of Holy Week. A parallel was drawn between the destruction of Jerusalem and the suffering and death of Jesus: both were the effect of the people turning away from God. A refrain was added to every chapter: "Jerusalem,Read more Jerusalem, turn back to the Lord your God", from the prophet Hosea (ch 14, vs 2). Liturgically the Lamentations are part of the Matins (or Tenebrae) on each of the last three days before Easter, the Triduum sacrum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
In the renaissance a large number of polyphonic settings were written, but in comparison the number of settings in the baroque era seems rather limited. Today the best-known are those written by French composers of the late 17th and early 18th century, like Lambert, Lalande, Charpentier and François Couperin (Leçons de Ténèbres). It is often suggested that in other parts of Europe hardly any settings of the Lamentations were written in the baroque era. Whether that is indeed the case is hard to prove. There are probably more than one would think, but they are hardly known and are seldom performed and recorded. Alessandro Scarlatti, for instance, composed a set of Lamentations, but as far as I know these have been recorded only once. The same goes for settings by composers as Giacomo Carissimi, Francesco Durante and Niccolò Jommelli. Recently settings by little-known composers have been recorded, for instance by the Neapolitans Cristofaro Caresana, Gaetano Veneziano and Gennaro Manna.
Giovanni Paolo Colonna can also be ranked among the little-known composers. Although is name is certainly not unfamiliar, he is rather badly represented on disc. Colonna was born and died in Bologna. The son of an organ builder, he was educated as such. He developed into an expert in organ construction. After initial studies in Bologna he went to Rome, where he became a pupil of Orazio Benevoli and Giacomo Carissimi. After his return to Bologna he was active as a composer and became second organist of the basilica of San Petronio. From 1662 until his death he was maestro di cappella there. He held the same position in two other churches for some years. His extant oeuvre is not that large, compared to the output of some other composers of his time. In our time especially his oratorios have attracted some attention; eight of these have survived. He also composed some secular dramatic works, such as cantatas and a couple of operas. His sacred oeuvre includes masses, motets, psalms, responsories and canticles.
In 1689 he published his Sacre lamentationi della Settimana Santa; the publisher erroneously gave it the opus number 8, whereas in fact it was his Op. 9. The collection includes nine lamentations, three for each of the three days. They are set for solo voice and basso continuo. The first is always for soprano, the second and third lamentation for the two first days are for alto and bass respectively, but in the settings for the third day it is the other way around. When these Lamentations were written, the strict monodic style from the time of Monteverdi had made way to a more lyrical approach, but the recitative, which was to take such an important place in vocal music of the 18th century, had not fully developed yet. These Lamentations bear witness to that. They are largely syllabic; in the text of the Lamentations only very few phrases are repeated. Melismatic passages are rare. Melismas are mostly confined to the introductions ('Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae'; 'De lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae'), the Hebrew letters which open every section and the refrain 'Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum'. There is also some coloratura here and there, mostly at the concluding phrase of a lamentation.
The scoring for a solo voice offers opportunities to express the text. These settings include many specimens of that. Obviously the contrast between dark and light is explored. The rather gloomy nature of these texts results in the lower part of the tessitura of the singers being fully explored. That is expecially the case in the settings for alto and bass, and fortunately in the voices of both Annalisa Mazzoni and Matteo Bellotto the low register is well developed.
These pieces ask for an optimum communication of the text. The three singers meet that requirement with flying colours. Every word is clearly intelligible. They sing in a truly speechlike manner, and also make use of dynamic shading to emphasize particular words. Especially Francesca Cassinari makes a strong impression in this recording. Her interpretation is very expressive and the often strong emotions of the text come off to the full.
The liner-notes give little information about the performance circumstances. Were these Lamentations written for the church or for a convent? Here they are embedded in a liturgical framework: every lamentation is followed by a responsory. These texts have been frequently set in the course of time. Especially settings from the renaissance are very well known, for instance from the pen of Tomás Luis de Victoria and Carlo Gesualdo. Here we hear them in plainchant, sung by just one cantor. Considering the scoring of the Lamentations that seems a logical option. Massimo Lombardi is exemplary in his performance of the liturgical chants.
This is a most interesting and musically captivating contribution to the repertoire for Passiontide. It shows that the exploration of the Lamentation repertoire is well worth the effort. And Colonna is certainly a composer who deserves more attention. This disc is also entirely convincing as far as the performance is concerned. I urge anyone who wants to hear something different during Passiontide to add this disc to his collection.
– MusicWeb International (Johan van Veen) Read less