Quattro pezzi sacri
Messa per Rossini – Libera me
Maria Agresta (soprano)
Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Sir Antonio Pappano
Recorded 10, 12 & 13 November 2012 (Quattro pezzi sacri) and 30 May 2013 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS 9 84524 2 Duration: 57 minutes Reviewed: September 2013
Antonio Pappano conducts Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces [Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; Warner Classics]
Reviewed by Alex Peyton-Jones
Warner Classics appears to be the new EMI, although the latter’s familiar red spine is still evident, which is comforting! More importantly, this release secures numerous bravos in the direction of Rome. Antonio Pappano leads his excellent Santa Cecilia forces in a notable contribution to the bicentennial celebrations of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The big work, if taken whole, is the Four Sacred Pieces, although they were written separately, two each either side of his ultimate opera, Falstaff (first staged in 1893), if published as a late collection in 1898.
Taken as a sequence, however, the a cappella ‘Ave Maria’ is here immaculately phrased and tuned to fully reveal Verdi’s private contemplation. After which, tangy-sounding strings introduce the ‘Stabat Mater’, deep and dark but with dramatic impulses and outbursts that remind of Verdi’s prowess as a crafter for the stage. Further unaccompanied choral writing, female voices only this time, informs ‘Laudi alla Vergine Maria’, sweet and chaste, and then comes to the extravagant setting of the ‘Te Deum’, opening with Plainsong and expanding to full chorus and orchestra eruptions that are thrilling, here with gleaming brass and a choral contribution that exhales total commitment: much beauty and stimulation is the name of the game and not forgetting some eye-popping changes of key.
To round of the disc is a miniature and a novelty. The former is another version of the Ave Maria, this time from 1880, which opens with sepulchral string timbres, haunting in themselves, before Maria Agrest pleads “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women...”. The melodic line given to the soprano is rapt and devout and Agrest sings it attractively and with fidelity. She then arrests the listener with a cry of “Libera me” as we are introduced to Verdi’s contribution to the memorial Messa per Rossini (1868) and what turned out to be his first thoughts about music that was later included in his Messa da Requiem (which Pappano has already given us; link below). It’s fascinating to hear what is seminal to later and greater fruition; yet this is also a potent contribution to a work remembering Rossini and is full of Verdi’s trademark spectacle and splendour. This account of it is fully identified as innately Italianate. Molto belle, one might say!