Messa di Gloria*
Roberto Alagna (tenor)*
Thomas Hampson (baritone)*
London Symphony Chorus*
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano
Reviewed by: Andrew Marshall
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: EMI CDC 5 57159 2
This proves to be a superb CD of non-operatic music by Puccini, one that should prove stimulating to anyone thinking Puccini only a creator of high-drama – although the composer’s theatrical instincts are always lurking.
It’s all-too-easy to be snobbish about Puccini’s tuneful, rather un-religious setting of the Mass. The ’Gloria’ itself is joyous – a positive and sparkling religious celebration without stodginess or sanctimonious expression. Alagna and Hampson’s faithful and plangent contributions will not disappoint these singers’ many fans. How instinctive Puccini’s writing for voices is, the luminous arias that, as from any composer drawn to the stage, have a melodramatic edge too; Puccini’s craft is unaffected – not only a good tune, the context is also vividly conveyed.
Pappano is the ideal interpreter of Puccini’s unashamed, uncelebrated setting. Puccini’s spontaneity is not forfeited even though the chorus and orchestra are both meticulously prepared. The London Symphony Chorus is outstandingly good, the LSO a model of professionalism.
Of the pieces for orchestra, Crisantemi is a delicate flower for strings only, an eloquent salon piece, wonderfully played by a string-section second to none these days. Preludio sinfonico is Puccini’s first published work. Tenderness and impulse are high on the composer’s agenda, and while these are attractive in themselves, it’s also fun to hear suggested the fund of melody that would become Puccini’s trademark.
I did wonder if the open, slightly chilly acoustic of the Abbey Road studios might have been made a little warmer. Messa di Gloria is not a ’heavy’ work and it would have benefited from more intimate sound. The balance of the soloists, and between the choir and orchestra, is very effective though.