Signum Records is delighted to announce that the ensemble Concerto delle Donne will release their first disc on Signum Records in 2003. The disc will feature the cantatas and motets of Giacomo Carissimi.

Carissimi is sometimes thought of as a "one-work composer" known to the average music-lover only for his oratorio Jephte. Choral Societies looking for 17th century music earlier than Purcell are therefore likely to choose Jephte.

Botticelli, Rites of SpringAlastair Ross first became interested in Carissimi’s music for the 3-soprano Concerto delle Donne line-up when he was asked to prepare a programme “Handel and his predecessors in Italy” for the 1977 Göttingen Festival. A review of Carissimi’s oeuvre showed that there were several pieces by Carissimi in the library of Christ Church Oxford just waiting to be performed by the group! He chose the cantata Siam tre miseri piangenti which has become a regular item in their concerts and which is central to this recording. It’s a marvellous piece, full of pain, suffering and anger. The three voices really are equal in the way they intertwine and react to one another. Donna Deam’s solo Piangete and Gill Ross’ and Elin Thomas’s duet Ahi, non torna are similar in mood. Maybe in our cynical 21st century we find it difficult to relate to these highly emotional, self-obsessed, texts, but there’s no denying that they inspired some wonderful music! Va dimanda al mio pensiero’ and Si dia bando, alla speranza are lighter in mood – both attractive, tuneful pieces.

There is plenty of variety in the church music as well. Cum reverteretur David, which begins the CD, is brilliant and virtuosic, a dramatic account of the rivalry between David and Saul. The duet Exulta, gaude, filia Sion is a joyful celebration of Christmas. In Benedictus Deus et Pater the voices weave rich dissonances to convey the suffering of the text; there’s something of the mood of Allegri’s Miserere here.

In addition to the vocal pieces the disc includes a set of variations by Frescobaldi and Michelangelo Rossi’s flamboyant and chromatic Toccata Settima for harpsichord, together with Kapspereger’s charming improvisations for chittarone.

We believe that only one of the Carissimi pieces on this CD, Exulta, gaude, filia Sion, has been recorded before, so the disc will be an important event in the recorded-music world, and one which we hope will revive interest in this unjustly neglected composer. 


What people are saying

Concerto Delle Donne
Gill Ross
Donna Deam
Elin Manahan Thomas
Alastair Ross
David Miller

Release date:19th May 2003
Order code:SIGCD040
Barcode: 635212004029

Early Music, November 2004

…A similar selection, also with three high voices, is presented by the British group Concerto delle Donne. In Piangete: Cantatas & Motets by Giancomo Carissimi there are also no changes in the continuo line; however, the chitarrone would seem a more authentic choice for such accompaniments, rather than a bowed string instrument, whose adoption as the sine qua non of continuo scoring did not occur until later in the century. In both these recordings the performance is of a high level, though in the British example Carissimi’s music finds some context in expansive preludes by Kapsberger and keyboard works by Frescobaldi and Rossi. This is a valuable way of underlining that Carissimi was not working in isolation as – arguably – the greatest figure of the period, but collaboratively participating in the extensive round of feasts which comprised the Roman liturgical year.

Choir & Organ, July/ August 2003

Carissimi’s timely rehabilitation continues with this lovely programme of solo cantatas and motets for two and three sopranos, garnished with instrumental items by his Roman contemporaries Frescobaldi, Rossi and Kapsberger. Concerto del Donne’s performances are detailed and sensitive, reining in the music’s dramatic expressivity but excelling in tonal beauty, blend, superb diction and confident coloratura. Some works do need more daring interpretation, and I found the organ’s wide flute tone offputtingly prominent; nevertheless, an impressive release

James Weeks

Early Music Review, July 2003

This is an admirable exploration of a virtually unknown repertory: Carissimi’s motets for three equal upper voices. Several of the pieces are quiet prayers, but the disc also includes the Christmas rejoicing of Exulta, gaude and the militaristic swagger of Cum reverteretur David. Such motets are far removed from the secular world of the Ferrarese concerto della donne that gives the present ensemble its name: presumably castrati would have sung these pieces in Rome, although the performing context remains shadowy. This recording intesrperses the motets with better-known cantatas and solos for lutte and keyboard. The singing is neatly phrased and the intonation is immaculate; sometimes I wished for a more demonstrative delivery and more attention to detail. Nonetheless this is an important and rewarding release.

Stephen Rose

Early Music News, May 2003

Concerto delle Donne is a – roup consisting of three sopranos and continuo, named after the singers at the court of Alfonso d’Este at Ferrara in the 1580s. This recording, however, is centred on music of another time and place, namely seventeenth-century Rome.

Of the pieces by Carissimi, six are motets and five are secular cantatas. The former were written for the Jesuit Collegio Germanico, where Carissimi was maestro di capella. Cum reverteretur celebrates David’s victory over Goliath, ending with the words that his king took so much amiss: ‘Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’. The strict canon of the opening is not maintained, but the imitative style is, with melismas in thirds on ‘cantantes’ and ‘Alleluia’. The piece gets the programme off to a splendidly jubilant start that quite belies the title of the disc.

So, incidentally, does the illustration on the cover, which shows Cupid aiming his arrow at Europa in a painting from the National Gallery by Guido Reni. Exulta, gaude, filia Sion, for two voices, celebrates Christmas with more chains of thirds, while Surrexit pastor bonus and Omnes gentes gaudete mark respectively the Resurrection and, presumably, the Ascension. Even Si dia bando, the last of three solo cantatas, is surprisingly cheerful. ‘Let’s banish hope …the torment grows even more …’, sings Gill Ross; but the mood is almost skittish, despite her occasional ‘bending’ of the notes. (Someone should have spotted her misreading of ‘sono’ for ‘seno’.) Va dimanda al mio pensiero, sung by Elin Manahan Thomas, is in similar vein except that there are contrasting recitative sections of a greater expressiveness and a couple of earcatching hemiolas.

Piangete, ohime, piangete, on the other hand, is a real lament. In a more-or-less continuous arioso Donna Deam, accompanied by David Miller on the chitarrone, gives due weight to the chromatic falling on the word ‘pianto’. Siam tre miseri piangent! is even more eloquent, with a particular emphasis on the Neapolitan sixth chord in the refrain. In Ahi, non torna, two voices alternate before combining as they contemplate the prospect of seeing their beloved again in what seems like a rather hectic menage a trois. Perhaps in a reflection of the instability of the situation, Carissimi moves in the opening bars from F minor to a cadence in E flat minor.

The three donne blend wonderfully well, and sing with keen attention to the words. David Miller is given a chance to shine in three short pieces by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, and there are two substantial pieces for harpsichord. Frescobaldi’s Parte sopra lamonicha is a set of ten variations on a tune of which the beginning is faintly reminiscent of Byrd’s Earl of Salisbury pavan. Michelangelo Rossi’s Toccata Settima is rightly described by Alastair Ross as ending ‘with an extraordinary passage of rising and falling chromatic scales’. Both are fluently played by Ross,who also provides unfailingly sensitive continuo support elsewhere. For the motets and one of the cantatas he plays the organ: the legend in the booklet gets this the wrong way round.

Richard Lawrence

The Sunday Times, 6 April 2003

Carissimi was the most important Italian composer of the generation after Monteverdi; his music has outstanding beauty and fluid inventiveness. Three of the six sacred motets and one of the five secular cantatas on this disc are scored for three equal solo voices. This enriches the expressive potential of the harmonies and Concerto delle Donne’s singers take full advantage. The concluding Alleluia of the opening motet, Cum reverteretur David, seems not to want to finish, ever. Though less luxuriant, the works for one and two voices are equally affecting as word settings. Five insturmental pices for solo keyboard and lute by Frescobaldi, Rossi and Kapsberger complete the disc.


  1. Giacomo Carissimi: Motet Cum reverteretur David – – [4:09]
  2. Carissimi: Motet Benedictus Deus et Pater – – [4:30]
  3. Girolamo Frescobaldi: Parte sopra lamonicha – – [7:17]
  4. Carissimi: Motet Exulta, gaude, filia Sion – – [5:07]
  5. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger: Toccata XI – – [2:01]
  6. Carissimi: Cantata Va dimanda al mio pensiero – – [5:38]
  7. Kapsperger: Prelude XI – – [0:36]
  8. Carissimi: Motet O dulcissimum Mariae nomen – – [3:31]
  9. Carissimi: Cantata Siam tre miseri piangenti – – [8:16]
  10. Michelangelo Rossi: Toccata Settima – – [4:07]
  11. Carissimi: Motet Surrexit pastor bonus – – [2:23]
  12. Carissimi: Cantata Ahi, non torna – – [5:06]
  13. Carissimi: Cantata Piangete, ohim? piangete – – [5:42]
  14. Kapsperger: Prelude X – – [0:54]
  15. Carissimi: Cantata Si dia bando, alla speranza – – [3:47]
  16. Carissimi: Motet Omnes gentes gaudete cum victore – – [3:39]