A Season of Oratorio
Ciaran F.Kane, SJ
The era of music recording is not much more than 100 years old, but it coincides with the dominance of opera over oratorio, those two genres that share Italian origin, parallel history and even certain overlaps. In the heyday of CD record shops, the ‘classical’ sections often carried rows and rows of opera titles, and browsing them was an education in itself. But even in those days the heading ‘oratorio’ (if indeed there was one) revealed much more sparse offerings.
So it’s no surprise that Radio 4 has been able for many years to provide an excellent regular programme of Sunday Opera. The opportunities to listen to oratorio, however, have been limited by, among other things, the relative dearth of recordings. Admittedly also there’s been a relative dearth of worthwhile oratorios. The flourishing of the genre in late 18th-century and 19th-century Britain and Germany in particular produced a wealth of ‘worthy’ works, but most of them disappeared without trace.
Recent renewed interest in Baroque musical history, fresh research, and some good luck have led to the recording of a number of forgotten or neglected oratorios. Together with a few more modern compositions, and some of the well-established ‘classics’, there are more than enough recordings available to present a short series of weekly ‘Oratorio’ programmes. Time constraints confine each week’s programme to general introduction and an edited version of the music. The new oratorio ‘season’ begins this month, continuing into May and June.