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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Messa di Gloria (1888) [51:16]
Iorio Zernnaro (tenor); Pietro Spagnoli (bass)
Ensemble Seicentonovecento/Flavio Colusso
rec. June 1991, Oratorio del Caravita, Rome
no text or translations included
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94943 [51:16]

Mascagni wrote his biggest success, the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, when he was working in the town of Cerignola. A few months earlier he had started on a Messa di Gloria which went through several versions before its completion in the form recorded here. Listeners who may fear that the result will be uncharacteristic or immature can be reassured as soon as they hear the opening Kyrie, which has much that will remind them of that opera in detail as well as general manner. Other reminders come later, although it would be an exaggeration to describe them as quotations. Rather they suggest that these were the raw materials that came to the composer's hand at that time.

Like the Messa di Gloria of Puccini and Bellini, and arguably even that by Rossini, this is not one of the composer's great masterpieces but is nonetheless wholly characteristic of the composer and will therefore have an attraction to those particularly drawn to their music. It inhabits the same sound-world as Cavalleria Rusticana; the orchestral Elevazione for instance could easily take the place of the more celebrated Intermezzo of the former, and the general tunefulness and grateful vocal writing have much in common with the opera. Admittedly the Mass contains a few humdrum moments and lacks memorable melodies, apart perhaps from the Agnus Dei, but it is worth hearing if you are attracted to the composer.

The performers do all they can to help the music; a good thing as there do not appear to be any rival versions. The recording is adequate rather than spectacular but does not get in the way of the music. It has been an unexpected pleasure to get to know this work, and I can imagine it as a very desirable Christmas present for the opera enthusiast who thinks they have recordings of everything.

John Sheppard