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Gian Carlo MENOTTI (b. 1911)
Missa - O Pulchritudo for soli, chorus and orchestra (1979) [43:22]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Messe Solenelle op. 16 (1899) [29:12]
Joan Gibbons (sop); Deborah Fair (mezzo); John Vorrasi (tenor); Thomas Sillitti (bass); William Ferris Chorale; Composer Festival Orchestra/William Ferris (Menotti)
Thomas Weisflog (grand organ)
Dexter Bailey (choir organ)
William Ferris Chorale/William Ferris (Vierne)
rec. in concert, 12 December 1982, St James Cathedral, Chicago in composer's presence (Menotti); 20 May 1988, Mount Carmel Church, Chicago (Vierne). ADD/DDD
CEDILLE CDR 7001 [72:47]




Menotti stands in the shadow of Samuel Barber for whom he wrote the libretti for the operas A Hand of Cards and Vanessa. He tends to be thought of only in terms of his operas. For many years he lived with Barber in their home at Capricorn in Westchester County, New York. 

On the showing of this Mass the attaching of an exclusively operatic reputation to Menotti is unjust and offers only a partial verdict. Acquaintance with his Violin Concerto, Symphony and the cantata The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi shows as much. The Missa distinguishes itself by dispensing with the Credo and substituting the words of St Augustine: "O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you." The music is golden and lyrical, mingling Bachian dignity and operatic fervour especially from the solo voices. It is a dramatic work too and the notes appositely mention the Verdi Requiem. Other comparisons spring to mind too: the Fauré Requiem, Rutter, Respighi and Rózsa. This is a gorgeously coloured and sung Requiem without a single dissonance. It is sweetly flavoured, grand and serene - completely out of kilter with the 1980s mainstream. It also manages to avoid being bilious. Urgently recommended if you enjoy Rutter and Fauré but it's no facsimile of either. 

The Vierne is less gaudily coloured as befits a solemn mass. It was written for the great expanses of Notre Dame and is an even more dignified and genuflectory counterpart to the Fauré Requiem. In full it is the Messe solenelle for two organs and two choirs. It has also been recorded on Solstice SOCD -714 at Notre Dame with Pierre Cochereau, grand orgue Jacques Marichal at the choir organ.

Full texts are given as sung and in translation. There are background notes too. I want to know which conductor was misinterpreting the Menotti such that the composer pleaded with Ferris to perform it.

Two masses then - one operatic-dramatic, modern in time but backward-looking in style; the other subdued, fervent but dignified. 

Rob Barnett 

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