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Messa per Rossini
Antonio BUZZOLLA (1815-1871)
Requiem and Kyrie
Antonio BAZZINI (1818-1897)
Dies Irae
Carlo PEDROTTI (1817-1893)
Tuba Mirum
Antonio CAGNONI (1828-1896)
Quid sum miser
Federico RICCI (1809-1877)
Recordare Jesu Pie
Alessandro NINI (1805-1877)
Raimondo BOUCHERON (1800-1876)
Confutatis maledictis
Carlo COCCIA (1782-1873)
Lacrimosa and Amen
Gaetano GASPARI (1808-1881)
Pietro PLATANIA (1828-1907)
Lauro ROSSI (1812-1885)
Agnus Dei
Teodulo MABELLINI (1817-1897)
Lux aeterna
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Libera me
Gabriel Beňačkova (soprano); Florence Quivar (mezzo); James Wagner (tenor); Alexandru Agache (baritone), Aage Haugland (bass)
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; The Prague Philharmonia Choir
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Helmuth Rilling
rec. 1989 (?), Evangelische Stadtkirche, Ellwangen, Württemberg
‘In Search of the Messa per Rossini’: Documentary directed by Gabrielle Faust
WARNER MUSIC VISION 50-51011 7396-2-0 [120:32]

On the death of Rossini in 1868, Verdi approached the music publisher Ricordi with the idea that thirteen of the leading Italian composers of the day (including himself) should collaborate in the composition of a Requiem Mass in honour of Rossini, for performance in the church of San Petronio in Bologna on the first anniversary of his death. The work was written but, for a variety of undignified reasons, was not performed. It then vanished from sight and memory so completely that when it was occasionally mentioned it was often assumed that it had never actually been written at all.
Some hundred and twenty years later, the American musicologist David Rosen located the score in the archives of Ricordi and Helmuth Rilling took responsibility for the first performance in Stuttgart in 1988. The story of the work’s origins, of the arguments that prevented its performance in Bologna, of its rediscovery and its first performance, are the subject of an interesting documentary by Gabrielle Faust, included on this DVD along with a complete performance of the work.
Naturally, a work from the hands of thirteen different composers is hardly likely to be one characterised by a high degree of musical unity or by a consistently equal level of achievement. But it is certainly not without considerable interest and anyone with any curiosity about Italian music in the nineteenth century will surely want to make its acquaintance. This is, I believe, the same performance previously issued on CD – Hänssler 91.108.
The composers invited to contribute movements to the Requiem were representative figures in the Italian music of their day. Of the 13 composers, 4 were born between 1800 and 1810, 6 between 1810 and 1820 and 2 in the 1820s. The one older figure is Carlo Coccia, born in 1873.
Rilling is a superb choral conductor and one can always be sure that any performance under his direction will be well prepared and idiomatically apt. That is certainly the case here; Rilling takes the work seriously and presents it with utter commitment.
Antonio Buzzolla was a composer and conductor, who studied with Donizetti and Mercadante. His opera met with a good deal of success (they include an Amleto of 1848). His settings of Venetian dialect songs for voice and piano were very popular. In 1855 he was made maestro di capella at St. Mark’s in Venice and his experience in the writing of sacred music is evident in his attractive Requiem and Kyrie, for full choir, competently written, though thematically not especially distinguished. Antonio Bazzini started out as a violinist, encouraged by Paganini and attracting the praise of both Schumann and Mendelssohn. Later he became Professor of Composition at the Milan Conservatory – where his pupils included both Mascagni and Puccini. His Dies Irae summons up a good deal of the appropriate power and the chorus is heard at its best here, bringing both subtlety and intensity to their performance of the music, under Rilling’s precise but unpedantic direction.
In his Tuba Mirum, Carlo Pedretti’s contribution is stirring and demonstrates a vivid sense of colour and texture. Pedretti was a very important figure in the musical world of Turin where, for example, he conducted early Italian performances of Wagner. This Tuba Mirum, which has more than a whiff of the operatic about it, makes one want to hear more of Pedretti’s work. Something of the same might be said for Antonio Cagnoni’s Quid Sum Miser an expressive, intensely emotional piece, in which the voices of Gabriel Beňačkova and Florence Quivar blend very strikingly. Cagnoni wrote both operatic and sacred works – he was maestro di capella at Vigevano from 1856 and his operatic works were successful from the 1840s onwards; both musical traditions are evident in his contribution here. The choral writing of Federico Ricci’s Recordare Jesu Pie, on the other hand, is somewhat banal, hard as Rilling tries to bring it to life. A fine, quasi operatic interpretation by James Wagner makes a persuasive case for Alessandro Nini’s Ingemisco. Nisi, again, was a composer both of works for the operatic stage and for the church (he was maestro di capella at S. Maria Maggiore in Bergamo from 1847). Interestingly, he also spent some years in the 1830s as director of the school of singing in St. Petersburg. Boucheron’s Confutatis Maledictis is less interesting, somewhat humdrum stuff, thoroughly competent but with little sign of inspiration. Nor is Coccia’s Lacrimosa, for the men of the choir, a very gripping piece, being rather empty and insubstantial; his Amen, in which the women join the men, is not, unfortunately much of an improvement.
Gaetano Gaspari was a musicologist as well as a composer and, so far as I can discover, worked almost exclusively in the realms of sacred music. He held several posts in a variety of churches before becoming maestro di capella at San Petronio in Bologna in 1857. His Offertorium uses a quartet of soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), the interplay of voices is very effective and the choral writing is well-shaped and expressive. Some of Gaspari’s works on the history of music have been republished in modern times. On this evidence his own compositions are probably worth further exploration. The Sanctus of Pietro Platania is a forceful piece, albeit somewhat short of refinement, and gets full justice from Rilling and the Chorus. Though Platania did work in the operatic theatre, this Sanctus seems to hark back more completely than most of the other contributions made to this Mass to older traditions of church music. Lauro Rossi’s early career as an operatic composer was succeeded by one as an impresario who took touring companies to venues such as Havana and New York. He later became director of the Milan Conservatory. His Agnus Dei has a genuine sweetness, which stays the right side of sentimentality and in this performance benefits from the dignified tenderness and immaculate control of Florence Quivar’s alto. Mabellini’s Lux Aeterna employs the trio of male soloists quite effectively and, as a composition, has a pleasing gravity without ever seeming more than very competent.
Throughout, indeed, with one or two exceptions as noted above, this is largely music characterised by a high level of competence rather than by force of vision or individual voice. That is not mean to damn with faint praises – the general level is very high. But one’s sense that it falls short of the very highest level is confirmed by the Libera Me. This, suddenly, is the real thing. Yes, of course, it too is highly competent, but it is much more too. With a few relatively minor differences this is the piece we all know from Verdi’s Requiem of 1874. Beňačkova is heard at something like her considerable best here and a piece of such quality makes a fitting climax to a work that is never less than interesting.
All concerned in the performance interpret this Mass with commitment, energy and considerable skill. It is special pleading by Rilling when he claims that this rediscovered ‘committee-piece’ is “a significant 19th century work in the realm of sacred music”. It is not, except historically, a work of major significance. It is, though, a fascinating conspectus of the state of sacred music in Italy in the 1860s and a rare chance to hear work by composers who will otherwise remain mere names in textbooks for most of us. For this reason, for the contribution of Rilling and his choir, and of the soloists (especially Beňačkova, Quivar and Wagner), this is a rewarding issue. The performance is well recorded and filmed, architectural detail of the Evangelische Stadtkirche in Ellwangen supplementing, but not distracting from, the performance.
Glyn Pursglove





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