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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Petite Messe Solenelle for four voice soloists, vocal ensemble, piano and harmonium (Version Intégral) (1863)
Françoise Pollet (soprano) Jacqeline Mayeur (mezzo-soprano), Jean-Luc Viala (tenor)
Michel Piquemal (baritone)
Raymond Alessandrini (piano)
Emmanuel Mandrin (harmonium)
Ensemble Vocal Michel Piquemal/Michel Piquemal
Rec. 25-29 May 1991 at l’Eglise Notre-Dame d’Auvers-sur-Oise, France
ACCORD 2CD476 060-2 [2CDs: 84:44]


Rossini composed his Petite Messe Solenelle some three years before his death. Well known for his wit, this work is ironically named, for, at nearly 90 minutes long, it’s hardly petite! And solemn it is not. In fact the word celebration often associated with the Mass is literally true here because in its outward looking joyfulness, sometimes even jollity it really is a celebration. One might go so far as to think this is an early example of ‘happy-clappy’ church music. Addressing God, Rossini, himself, said of it, "King Lord, my poor little mass is finished. Is it really a mass – or just a mess? I was born for opera buffa, as you know. Not much skill but a little feeling, that’s all there is to it. So blessed be Thy Name and grant me paradise.’

But its approachable mixture of sentiment, piety and humour, so typical of Rossini, has endeared this ‘little’ Mass to ensembles ever since its first performance on 24 April 1865 at the home of the Comtesse Pillet-Will. (It will be remembered that Rossini had ceased composing operas at the early age of 37 in 1829. For the next 39 years he was in virtual retirement – he spent the time exploring other musical genres including the many little pieces for voice and piano that he composed in his latter years which he referred to as ‘sins of his old age’.)

The Petite Messe Solenelle is scored for four soloists, two vocal quartets, two pianos (although it appears that only one is utilised on this recording) and a harmonium.

Thus in this context the appellation, ‘Petite’, is appropriate for here Rossini is breaking away from the mass-sound effects of his previous works - and the majority of other Mass settings. He added an astonishing desideratum – "twelve singers of three sexes: men, women and castrati". Some hopes. He must have known that the vogue for this type of singing had passed with the 17th and 18th centuries but it would seem that he had a nostalgia for the vocalità which he had known and loved in his youth, the crystal clear bel canto that the castrati had perfected before the dawn of the Romantic Age.

The old fashioned charm of the harmonium adds an atmosphere of intimacy and spontaneity as though the Mass was being celebrated in a small chapel by a small community. The music has a simple directness, its eccentric rhythms, its amusing tempi, operatic-like tunes, the sweetly sentimental piano solo opening to the Preludio religioso and the wildly romantic Agnus Dei all make compelling listening.

Michel Piquemal delivers a tasteful reading. His performers are sincere and enthusiastic without allowing the quirkiness and humour to overwhelm the charm and simple piety of this endearing work.

Ian Lace


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