Petite messe solennelle
[Latin text and English translation included in the programme]
Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), Peter Auty (tenor) & James Platt (bass)
Richard Pearce (harmonium) & Iain Farrington (piano)
Reviewed by: Denise Prentice
Reviewed: 6 August, 2016
Venue: The Chapel, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, South-East London
Neither small nor solemn, Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle (1863) is the last of his major works and came after an opera-dry period, for William Tell had been completed over three decades previously.
The ornate, neo-classical grandeur of the Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College provided a fitting setting for Rossini’s spiritually uplifting masterpiece. This Mass, which premiered privately in Paris in 1864 at the behest of the Count Alexis Pillet-Will and his wife Louise, sparkled with vitality and wit under David Hill.
Unusually scored for piano and harmonium, this combination delivered a beautiful sense of intimacy, from the opening notes of the ‘Kyrie’, more than making up for the fact that the original score was composed for two pianos and also the harmonium.
The BBC Singers took command throughout of the varied writing, flawlessly presenting it with virtuosity, unfolding the sublime richness and subtle dynamics of the ‘Kyrie’, and delivering a meltingly impactful conclusion with the ‘Gloria’.
The four vocal soloists were each characterised by pleasing tones and lyrical expressiveness. Peter Auty injected his contributions with robust, operatic delight, while James Platt held a commanding bass presence with passion and gusto. Elizabeth Watts gave a beautifully enunciated and nuanced ‘O salutaris Hostia’ and Kathryn Rudge evoked a tenderly plaintive ‘Agnus Dei’.
As a whole, in this 80-minute rendition, Rossini’s Mass sustained a momentum vibrant with colour and charm and which was also balm to the soul.