This is a live recording of a concert that took place in the Basilique de
Saint-Denis in Paris to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the work, first
performed in the same city in March 1864.
Iíve personally always had a soft spot for this work but had only
previously heard it in its chamber version with two pianos and harmonium and
this has always been regarded as being definitive. Itís glorious, uplifting
music and I urge anyone who hasnít heard it to seek it out. The
orchestration Rossini made in 1867-68 has been generally viewed as merely an
arrangement. The posthumous premiere of the orchestral version, which was
also the workís first public performance, took place at the Thť‚tre-Italien
on 28 February 1869 on the anniversary of the composerís birth. This new
recording uses the recent critical edition by Davide Daolmi.
The title is misleading. Maybe itís one of Rossiniís jokes. In terms of
length itís hardly petite, running as it does for 77 minutes. Itís also not
very solemn. Is it really a mass? Itís more of a theatre piece to be frank.
Some passages are operatic and dramatic in nature and the whole work sits
very comfortably into the period of the composerís life when he spoke of his
ďsins of old ageĒ.
When first approaching this orchestration I was worried that the intimate,
chamber-like quality of the two piano and harmonium version would be lost.
That certainly isnít the case. The intimacy remains intact, due largely to
the conducting of Ottavio Dantone who makes sure that the orchestral writing
is kept in check except for those lively passages where a more upholstered
orchestral sound makes sense. He doesnít hold back in the grand
Is there a more attractive or haunting opening Kyrie
to be heard
in all of music? The chugging string motif immediately grabs the attention
and the excellent choral contribution of Accentus is heard straightaway to
compelling effect. The intimacy is still there but the added orchestral
timbre takes the music to a higher level. The opening of the Gloria
is another example of the benefits that the orchestra brings to the
proceedings. The music comes over with far more drama and power. The
soloists make their first entry here and itís clear that they are all of a
high quality. They sing with great conviction and work well together as a
quartet. Domine deus
is delivered by Michael Spyres in the style of
one of Rossiniís operatic heroes, supported by the composerís usual
sparkling use of the orchestra. Quoniam
is, in the hands of
Alexander Vinogradov, sung with a resonance and depth so typical of a
Russian bass. We then come to one of the highlights of the Messe: Cum
. The tripping orchestration adds enormously to this
exhilarating romp. I donít know how anybody could possibly resist this
exciting music. The closing movements, O salutaris
put the two lady soloists in the spotlight. The soprano Julia
Lezhneva has a bright and even-toned voice and demonstrates a cool,
emotionally controlled approach to O salutaris
. Delphine Galou
brings the work to a moving conclusion with a stunning Agnus dei
This is the stand out solo performance on the disc.
The recording has been made by using closely placed microphones in order
to avoid the wishy-washy sound so typical of large churches and cathedrals.
It succeeds very well on two counts. First of all, there is plenty of
clarity and definition to be heard from the soloists and chorus. Secondly,
this has been achieved without sacrificing orchestral warmth. There is a
long decay time after climaxes but the engineers have done a great job in
taming it. The only criticism is that there are quite a few on-stage noises:
soloists rustling their music and the chorus fidgeting perhaps? These are
minor points and at least the audience is admirably silent.
This was an ear-opener for me. The orchestral version has taken one of my
favourite works onto a new level. This is a magnificent performance that
deserves to be commercially successful.