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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Preludio Sinfonico Op. 1 (1882) [8:39]
Messa di Gloria (1880) [44:48]
Crisantemi (1890) [7:01]
Roberto Alagna (tenor); Thomas Hampson (baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Antonio Pappano
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, November 2000
no text or translation included
EMI CLASSICS 4333012 [60:53]

Although it would be hard to claim any of these works as amongst the composer’s greatest achievements all are capable of giving considerable pleasure to the listener. The best known by some way is Cristantemi, a very lovely slow movement for strings. Like the earlier Preludio Sinfonico it could easily take its place as an Intermezzo in any verismo opera of the time, and is indeed closely related to Manon Lescaut. Whilst I enjoyed hearing both it and the Preludio Sinfonico there is a distinct lack of spontaneity about the performances. Certainly every rallentando, allargando or ritentuto is carefully observed, but too often sounds imposed on the natural flow of the music rather than being a part of it. Perhaps Crisantemi sounds better anyway as a string quartet, where small adjustments of speed and dynamics can be made to sound much more natural.
 
All that said, no one is likely to buy this disc for the two shorter works. It is the Mass that matters, and that is much more satisfactory overall. It was written as the composer’s graduation exercise and provides a clear link both to his family’s tradition as the makers of religious music in Lucca and to his more familiar operatic music. This duality of character in the Mass is indeed one of its main attractions. The composer seems at times to be showing off all that he has learned to do or wants to experiment with. This is no more than is to be expected with a graduation exercise although most are much less capable of achieving real musical interest. The variety of treatment, wealth of melody and sheer energy of much of the music far outweighs a few occasionally banal passages.
 
The performance is again a careful one although there is not the same feeling of detail having been imposed from outside that there is in the purely orchestral pieces. The two soloists sing very much in the manner of the later operas. Roberto Alagna in particular treats his various solos as if he were singing Cavaradossi rather than with the more bel canto style that I think would work better. He is nonetheless very convincing. Hampson is less mannered and more effective. Pappano ensures that the choir and orchestra miss no nuance of the score. Incidentally the booklet points out that the text used here has been re-edited by Pietro Spada, and certainly there are some obvious differences with the more familiar edition by Father Dante del Fiorentino. None however greatly affect the work’s overall character.
 
The performance is spaciously but clearly recorded. Apart from my comments on the orchestral works my only criticism is of the wholly inadequate notes about the work - most are about the conductor - and the absence of text or translation. These are however minor shortcomings in an otherwise impressive issue. I have not heard any of its current rivals but they would have to be very good to rival this. 

John Sheppard