Marina Rebeka (soprano), Sara Mingardo (contralto), Francesco Meli (tenor) & Alex Esposito (bass)
Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Sir Antonio Pappano
Recorded 10, 12 & 13 November 2012 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: EMI CLASSICS 4 16742 2 (2 CDs) Duration: 83 minutes Reviewed: May 2013
Antonio Pappano conducts Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle [Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; EMI Classics]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
It is perhaps inevitable that any review of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle (1863) will remark that it is neither small nor solemn; Rossini must have had a sparkle in his eyes when he inscribed the title page. Originally scored for the delightful and intimate forces of four soloists, a choral octet, and two pianos and harmonium (Wolfgang Sawallisch's recording of this version is unsurpassed), Rossini later expanded the work for orchestra, keeping the vocal elements and the (larger as required) chorus as was. The first performance of this now-public piece was in February 1869, a few months after the composer had died.
It’s a very special setting, full of beauty and no little wit and joy, with many tunes that are foot-tapping and ripe for whistling. It also offers a feast of solo singing; try the tenor’s “Domine Deus”, for example, section three of the ‘Gloria’, which is a melodic treat and finds Francesco Meli in ardent form, and followed by a sublime “Qui tollis” in which Marina Rebeka and Sara Mingardo entwine as one without ever losing their respective soprano and contralto characteristics. Not to be left out, the bass now gets his turn (“Quoniam”), a moment seized by Alex Esposito with regal swagger. The superb vocal quartet is now complete. The Santa Cecilia Chorus is equally distinguished, and Rossini being an equal opportunities composer now gives the choristers their turn in the limelight with the fugal fun of the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, music with a big smile on its face and harmonically magnetic, to complete what is a glorious ‘Gloria’, Antonio Pappano's tempo perfect to get all the nips and tucks into place, the impact exhilarating with animated rhythms and a clarity of inner orchestral parts that brings its own pleasure, and a choral response that is impeccable and adoring. I shall not hear it better done!
At the conclusion of this marvellous moment, it would seem the ideal time to change CDs, but that would be to deny Pappano a dramatic attacca into the ‘Credo’, Rossini now re-flexing his operatic muscles and summoning some big-gun gestures, and finding in Pappano a musical conspirator par excellence ... When we do reach disc 2, the ‘Prélude réligieux pendant l’Offertoire – Ritournelle’ offers, well, solemn music, initiated by trombones and taken up a by a lengthy organ solo that places us firmly in church and which is faithfully played by Daniele Rossi. It’s a rather lovely contribution and is certainly organic to the whole.
Beginning in operatic mode, just a little sinisterly if engagingly surreptitious, Petite messe solennelle is a masterpiece of melody, secularly religious sentiment and delicious colours, a showcase for superior singers set with all the cunning of a composer who knew a thing or two about the stage. Petite messe solennelle is one of Rossini's “sins of old age”, but surely not enough to deny him a freeman’s entry into the Vatican, for the music is packed with engaging ideas and many unpredictable twists and turns, and much depth too; try, for example, ‘O salutaris hostia’, the work’s penultimate movement, a heartfelt utterance for the soprano, gratefully taken here by Rebeka. Rossini signs-off with a benedictional ‘Agnus Dei’, ‘meet your maker’ time, a long if related journey from the high jinks of earlier, and with a final chord that is such an economical and touching way to say “farewell”.
Much proficiency and affection informs this wonderful performance, vividly recorded. I can’t praise Pappano’s conducting enough for his know-how, insight, instinct, ability to inspire those around him and for his sheer and sincere love of the music. In short, this Rossini is another great offering from Rome.