Recordings > Choral and Song

ROSSINI: Petite Messe Solennelle

spacer Rebeka, Mingardo; Meli, A. Esposito; Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Pappano. Texts and translation. EMI 4167422 (2)

PetMesseCD

In the Petite Messe Solennelle, Rossini likes to subvert expectations. He follows tradition in ending both the Gloria and the Credo with choral fugues — but the "Quoniam" is outright jaunty, while the sprightly "Et vitam venturi" is a joyous affirmation. Elsewhere, he goes his own way, setting the "Crucifixus" simply, as a dignified, rhythmically undulating solo, and holding back the choral entry in the busy, urgent Agnus Dei until after the contralto has sung the entire text, after which they extend the discussion together. The start of the graceful "O salutaris Hostia," interpolated between the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, is almost waltzy. Rossini gives the piece not one surprise ending but two: after what sounds like an oddly restrained "final" cadence, a reprise of the searching opening theme leads to the full-fledged tutti originally expected! The composer's choices, however unconventional, always prove appropriate to some aspect of the text.

Commentators are apt to fuss over Rossini's original version of the score for twelve singers (four soloists, plus eight additional choristers), harmonium and two pianos, but the composer appears always to have had more ambitious intentions: in an 1868 letter, attempting to secure authorization for a performance with orchestra and mixed chorus, he described that keyboard accompaniment as provisional. In the present chorus-and-orchestra performance, the orchestration is presumably the composer's, though it's not explicitly identified as such.

Antonio Pappano directs a powerful reading, attuned to the score's varying affects, drawing expression from dynamic nuances and contrasts, expertly gauging transitions among orchestra, organ and chorus. As always, the Santa Cecilia orchestral and choral forces respond well to him, though I noticed executant inconsistencies: the trim articulations, clean accents and floaty woodwinds at the start of the piece aren't quite replicated, for example, when the same music returns a few minutes later. The chorus is always clearly tuned; themes are expressively shaped within its individual sections. But its unity of purpose isn't matched by comparable precision of attack: slightly "cupo" vowels leave a woolly impression, while tone and rhythm can turn mushy in soft passages.

The four soloists work well in their various groupings — though Marina Rebeka and Sara Mingardo don't immediately figure out how to blend in their first duet passage — and they've been coached into heartfelt, even eloquent voicings of the liturgical text. There are no arias as such except for the "O salutaris," sung by Rebeka with fine feeling and bright tone. spacer

STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6