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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Petite Messe Solennelle (1863)
Julia Lezhneva (soprano); Delphine Galou (alto); Michael Spyres (tenor); Alexander Vinogradov (bass); Accentus; Orchestre de Chambre de Paris/Ottavio Dantone
rec. 2014, Basilique de Saint-Denis, Paris
NAŌVE V5409 [77:05]

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 climaxes.

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 sancto spiritus. 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 and Agnus dei 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.

John Whitmore

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