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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Petite Messe Solennelle
Eleonora Buratto (soprano), Sara Mingardo (mezzo-soprano), Kenneth Tarver (tenor), Luca Pisaroni (bass), Tobias Berndt (organ)
Wiener Singakademie
Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg/Gustavo Gimeno
rec. 2018, Philharmonie, Luxembourg
PENTATONE PTC5186797 SACD [81:52]

The charm of Rossini’s “poor little Mass” is lost in the version we have recorded here, with a full symphony orchestra taking the place of the piano duet/harmonium of the original and a large chorus and quartet of soloists taking the place of the original 12 voices. But this large-scale orchestral and choral version was certainly something that Rossini was keen to get out into the public domain, as Richard Osborne’s illuminating and at times revelatory booklet notes detail. Originally composed in 1863, presumably for a performance at one of the regular soirées musicales Rossini held during his final decades in Paris, his ambition was for it to be presented in some “great basilica” and he sought permission from Pope Pius IX in order for women’s voices to be used in its performance. In anticipation of the Pope’s approval, he enthusiastically orchestrated the originally keyboard material (material which he apparently described as “provisional”). The Pope’s approval was not forthcoming – his letter, we read, was “full of benedictions and tendernesses, but ignored entirely the matter in hand”. (Church musicians will immediately recognise that, in correspondence with clergy, nothing much seems to have changed!) It was only after Rossini’s death that his widow negotiated a 100,000-franc deal to sign the rights of the orchestrated version over to an impresario who then touted the work around under the title Messe Solennelle and arranged for its first performance in Paris’s Théâtre Italien during February 1869.

If, as Osborne suggests, much of the inspiration behind the original composition of the Petite Messe Solennelle was the “beautiful singing” of the soprano Carlotta Marchisio and her mezzo-soprano sister, Barbara, this recording certainly meets Rossini’s original hopes. Eleonora Buratto and Sara Mingardo produce a beautiful sound, and while they never sound overly operatic, they have a fulsome tone and dramatic appeal which seems ideally suited to this somewhat uncertain area between the church and the theatre. Kenneth Tarver, and particularly Luca Pisaroni have no such qualms, and bring the full weight of theatrical delivery to their various solos, the latter’s “Quoniam tu solus” being a marvellously robust delivery of this homage to “the Holy One”.

The Wiener Singakademie are suitably discreet in their delivery, managing to expand the sound just enough to move it from the intimate soirée mood of the original to the larger theatrical feel of this more full-blooded version, but not overstating the choral drama. Even the highly-dramatic opening of the Credo manages to side-step any hint of big operatic moment. That is largely down to Gustavo Gimeno’s energetic tempi and lack of self-indulgence, where nothing is really over-stated and extremes of dynamic are filtered through intelligent manipulation of the choral tone. While, at times, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Luxembourg seems a trifle over-inflated, in the main this is a very successful and largely convincing account of this orchestration which, while not fully luring me away from Rossini’s original, manages to keep it convincingly non-operatic if, at the same time, reminding us that it was never really a true piece of ecclesiastical music.

Marc Rochester

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