In my review, elsewhere on this site, of a French language version of Mozart's Figaro from this source, I provided detail of the interesting town of Compiègne and the origins of its Théâtre Impérial. Productions are given under the auspices of Théâtre Français de la Musique (Director Pierre Jourdan) and they focus on the French language and music with particular French connections.
Rossini's La Petite Messe Solennelle, one of his few late works, was written in 1864, (twenty five years after his last stage work, Guillaume Tell) for the consecration of the Chapel at the home of his friend Countess Pillet-Will. The word 'petite' does not refer to the work’s size, but rather the composer’s evaluation of its importance. In an introductory note to 'le bon Dieu' he referred to it as 'the last mortal Sin of my Old Age'. Despite such thoughts, claiming that if he didn't do it himself somebody else would, Rossini orchestrated the work in 1867.
The original version of the work as given here specified four soloists and a choir of twelve. In this performance the soloists are set too far back and the pianos sound rather too dominant; the more forward positioning of the choir gives a far better balance. Of the soloists the tenor, Charles Workman, is the only name likely to be recognized outside France. His tightly focused entry in tr 3, with its echoes of 'Cujus Animam' from the composer's Stabat Mater, is particularly pleasing. Armand Arapian, more bass than baritone, is appropriately sonorous if not ideally steady and finds some moments of high tessitura a strain.
The two ladies duet well together; the soprano's silvery tones being distinctive. I would have preferred a more weighty contralto tone – the Agnus Dei with its long lyrical lines was Rossini's last gift to the contralto Barbara Marchisio.
Apart from the balance considerations already mentioned, and some over stressing of the pianos, the recording is warm and pleasant on the ear. There are no notes, words or even track listings. There is some inappropriate brief applause at the end of tr 7. However, given the paucity of recordings of this 'petite' masterpiece, this performance is worth pursuing. Some performances from this source have already appeared on the 'Chant du Monde' label.
Robert J Farr