Coviello Classics' Carissimi: Oratorios features the very capable period ensemble Lautten Compagney under Wolfgang Katschner with a fine chorus, Capella Angelica, in a mixed program of early oratorios by the "father of the oratorio," Giacomo Carissimi. Although these works historically belong to the early Baroque period, they are heavily influenced by the examples of Palestrina and the Gabrieli brothers. Apart from a few, thankless string parts barely audible in this live recording, apparently made at the Handel Festival in Halle, these works could pass for music written a full century earlier. Moreover, while there are isolated moments of glory scattered throughout the first three oratorios on the disc, long stretches of the music seem rather workmanlike and routine, even as the performers acquit themselves admirably in all of it. The sound is generally quite good on this hybrid multichannel SACD, but it favors certain instruments over others, and even soloists, in certain cases, aren't heard clearly, although perhaps their parts are more apparent in the scarlet layer or on a Surround Sound system.
The most interesting of the four oratorios here is Judicium Extremum, and it had better be, as its subject is none other than the end of the world and the final judgment. Jesus is portrayed as ruthless and impatient in his handling of the souls of the world, anxious to weed humankind of its trash and to take only the core constituency up with him to eternity -- bass Matthias Gerchen does a terrific job in characterizing this role. It is Carissimi's use of rhythm and declamation of the text that makes Judicium Extremum the most compelling of the four; in purely harmonic terms, it is actually the most rigid and resembles the genre of madrigal comedy more so than opera. As Carissimi: Oratorios concludes on such a high note, it is hard to condemn the whole disc. Perhaps it's best to say that it is recommended primarily to those who take interest in the early oratorio, and only with very serious reservations attached.