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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868) Petite Messe solenelle
Lucia Mazzaria (soprano)
Helen Schneiderman (alto)
Kenneth Tarver (tenor)
Reiner Holthaus (bass)
Roberto Szidon (piano)
Richard Metzler (piano)
Detlef Dörner (harmonium)
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart/Rupert Huber
Recorded 1995
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.053 [79.33]
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Choirs often lose sight of the fact that Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe solenelle’ is a chamber work; Rossini suggested it be performed with a group of just twelve singers. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to expand on this number, particularly when performing the work with an amateur choir. On this recording, the choral part is sung by the SWR Vocal Ensemble, an ensemble of some thirty plus professional singers, based at Süd-West Rundfunk, the Stuttgart broadcaster. They make a strong, confident case for the work and directed by Rupert Huber, give good structure and shape to the large choruses. But there are times when they just make too much noise and I could wish for a more chamber-sized performance with a better balance with the pianos (the excellent Roberto Szidon and Richard Metzler). In the big ensembles the balance can favour the choir and the poor harmonium seems to run a poor third behind the choir and the pianos. Whilst it does not quite emulate the wheezy parlour harmoniums of old, the instrument used by Detlef Dörner does sound woefully under-powered and this has a deleterious effect on the structure of the work.

The Petite Mess Solenelle is a chamber work. It was written for the dedication of the private chapel of the Parisian nobleman Count Michel Frederic Pillet-Will. Rossini did, later, reluctantly agree to demands for an orchestral version and this larger-scale sibling has affected the chamber version in a number of ways. Not only do ensembles (both choir and soloists) perform the chamber version as if it was the orchestral version, but for many years the piano accompaniment was based quite heavily on the orchestral version. (Thankfully, there is now a good edition of the music for the original version of the work with accompaniment of two pianos and harmonium.) But for a performance really to work you need singers who can respond to the chamber music scale of the piece. They must be able to sing the lines with a focused intensity, entirely different from the operatic style of the day. Unfortunately, this does not happen here. The benchmark for all comparisons of this work is Wolfgang Sawallisch’s 1972 recording. With a team of singers that included Brigitte Fassbaender and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, that recording produced a performance of rare intensity.

None of the singers here quite manages to put the opera house out of their minds. Bass Reiner Holthaus and tenor Kenneth Tarver are the most successful, managing to scale down their performances without losing any of the intensity. Tarver’s Rossinian credentials have developed substantially since this recording was made in 1995, so his suave performance on this record is no surprise. Holthaus never blusters and brings a careful focus to his performance. Alto Helene Schneiderman has a large-ish sounding voice which generates only a generalised intensity when scaled down. She has a fine, firm voice and would probably be more at home in a larger-scale work. Lucia Mazzaria has the technique and the bravura for the soprano part; unfortunately she also has quite a substantial vibrato. This might not be something that everyone will object to, but I increasingly found that Mazzaria’s voice sounded out of keeping with the work. If you heard this group of singers live in this piece, then you would not entirely be disappointed, but on a recording they do not really do adequate justice to Rossini’s work.

This recording will be liked by those people who admire fine choral singing, but I am afraid that it is not my library choice for this tricky work, though it does certainly have the advantage of being on one generous disc.

Robert Hugill



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Gloria in excelsis
Gratias agimus tibi
Domine Deus
Qui Tollis
Cum Sancto Spiritu
Credo in unum Deum
Et Resurrexit
Preludio religioso
O salutaris Hostia
Agnus Dei

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