Mass for Four Voices
Petite Messe solennelle
The Kings Consort:
Carolyn Sampson & Rebecca Outram (soprano)
Hilary Summers & Sian Menna (alto)
James Gilchrist & Charles Daniels (tenor)
Andrew Foster-Williams & Robert Evans (bass)
Gary Cooper & Matthew Halls (pianos)
Mark Williams (harmonium)
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: 31 December, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Byrd’s Mass was sung two to a part, the voices blending beautifully most of the time, save the occasionally obtrusive vibrato mentioned above. Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle was presented here with the same vocal forces, apparently the size asked for in the autograph score. But Robert King cheated a bit: Rossini specifies 12 voices, the soloists making up a separate group. Here the soloists formed part of the chorus as well. It’s a moot point as to whether you get the same effect: surely a singer who has just had to negotiate a lengthy bel canto aria is not going to be able to contribute to a full blooded chorus in quite the same way as a fresh voice? And while we’re on the subject of authenticity, King also assembled a curious group of keyboard instruments approximating those which would have been available to Rossini in Paris at the time: a Bösendorfer (quite novel for the period), a Viennese Graf and a French Debain harmonium. Beautiful textures resulted: the lighter Graf filling out the Bösendorfer’s sound in the choruses nicely, the Debain adding a curious accordion-like colour.
This was a fun, good-natured performance; the choruses packed a real punch, the mellower a cappella sections were just as vigorous, and the fugues really made your hair stand on end. The soloists were all impressive, especially tenor Charles Daniels (whose ‘Domine Deus’ was a model of bel canto singing in the true sense) and soprano Carolyn Sampson (her ‘O Salutaris Hostia’ was quite a treat). But I can’t end without mentioning Gary Cooper’s superb piano solo on the Bösendorfer: he really worked it into a serious, meditative interlude. And the audience appreciated it, reserving the biggest cheer for him.