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Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle / King, Sampson, et al

Album Summary

>Rossini, Gioachino : Petite messe solennelle, for soloists, 2 pianos, harmonium & choir
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"Recordings of the final and finest work among Rossini's "sins of my old age" aren't as rare as you might think. We've covered at least nine accounts of it since 1993, the latest on Hanssler (93053, N/D 2003). I can't tell you how many of them offer the composer's later orchestrated version (my back issues only go back to 1997), but this one-as does the Hanssler- presents the work's original version, written for performance in a fashionable Paris salon. Scored for two pianos, harmonium, the usual soloists, and a mini-chorus of eight, it is a marvel of melodious charm and heartfelt piety-and as well-crafted as any of his other masterpieces. The "petite" appellation applies only to the minimal forces: the work runs well over an hour. Compared to the over-the-top operatic style of Verdi's Requiem, this is an intimate and understated work. But the Rossini we know-the master of theatrical drama and humor-still shines through here and there: several of the solo passages here could (if you ditched the Latin) pass for operatic ones. One of the most convincing examples is the tenor's passionate 'Domine Deus' aria. Otherwise, he drew on a tremendous variety of styles and traditions: his lovely a cappella 'Christe eleison' recalls the masters of the Italian Renaissance, and the exuberant double fugue that ends the 'Gloria' rivals any Baroque master's. His 'Credo' is beautifully organized, with compact treatments of each of its many sections that hang together nicely and never allow the going to get tedious. An interesting device is the repeated and emphatic insertion of the original word "credo" (I believe) here and there, emphasizing the mass's core dogmatic foundations. The 'Crucifixus', for solo soprano, will break your heart-but the joyful 'Et Resurrexit' will mend it again. Another superb fugue ends the movement with a bang. The remainder of the work includes a couple of instrumental interludes: a reflective, counterpoint-laced 'Prelude religieux' for the pianos, followed by a short 'Ritournelle' for the harmonium that sets up the succeeding 'Sanctus'- another striking setting for unaccompanied chorus. The 'O Salutaris Hostia' was presumably inserted in keeping with the French custom in those days. The concluding 'Agnus Dei' takes the listener from prayerful entreaty to powerful triumph. Other accounts often revert to a single piano, or seek to add oomph via extra voices. But King's forces here stick closely to Rossini's prescribed dimensions: both pianos and only 12 voices. The eight choral singers sound splendid. The performance is a period effort: Gary Cooper and Matthew Halls play a pair of mellow-sounding pianos dating from the era, and Mark Williams's harmonium is also an antique. The recording venue approximates the kind of small chamber where the work was first heard. The soloists-including an extra tenor who stepped in in the recording sessions to cover a colleague's sudden illness-are all first-rate, but don't expect full-blown operatic sound from them. Interesting notes, full texts, and clear but cozy sound round out a most attractive package that no fan of Rossini or collector of unconventional treatments of the mass will want to be without." -ARG

'Twelve voices, two pianos, one harmonium: The King's Consort perform Rossini's Mass in its original intimate dimensions, sized to fit a Paris salon. Hardly petite in length, it's an irresistible, affecting work, full of surprises, with tender arias, tremendous fugues, and only a few dips into the sentimental pot. The three period instruments supply a rainbow of colours. Among the singers, Hilary Summers stands out with her individual timbre' (The Times)

'This is a recording which perfectly captures the spirit of the work - and the recording is equally generous to King and his superb team of musicians' (International Record Review)

'Every attempt seems to have been made to be faithful to Rossini's original intentions. I love the sound it makes, and it includes one of Rossini's great melodies for the Gratias agimus tibi: you'll be humming it for hours' (BBC Classical Review)

'The Mass is one of Rossini's finest achievements and this outstanding recording of this compelling work in its original form is highly recommended' (New Classics)

bbc.co.uk - Andrew McGregor
I like the fact that the overall effect isn't operatic, and that every attempt seems to have been made to be faithful to Rossini's original intentions. That includes the acoustic, which sounds as though it's chosen to resemble a salon and not a church.


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Works Details

>Rossini, Gioachino : Petite messe solennelle, for soloists, 2 pianos, harmonium & choir
  • Performers: Gary Cooper (Piano); Andrew Foster-Wililams; Matthew Halls (Piano); Carolyn Sampson (Soprano); Andrew Tortise (Tenor); William Unwin (Tenor); Mark Williams (Harmonium)
  • Conductor: Robert King
  • Ensemble: King's Consort Choir
  • Notes: Cadogan Hall, London, England (11/13/2005-11/15/2005)
  • Running Time: 66 min. 34 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Form: Choral
  • Written: 1863