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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
Messa di Requiem (1835/1870)
Carmela Remigio (soprano), Chiara Amarù (alto), Juan Francisco Gatell (tenor), Andrea Concetti (bass), Omar Montanari (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra Donizetti Opera/Corrado Rovaris
rec. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo on 29 November 2017
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
DYNAMIC CDS7813 [69:59]

The history behind Donizetti’s Messa di Requiem may not be worth a Mass, to travesty King Henry IV, but interesting to relate, not least in the light of the delay of its premiere. In 1835 both Vincenzo Bellini and Donizetti were in Paris to launch new operas. Bellini’s I Puritani was a luminous success at the premiere on 24 January at the Théâtre Italien. On 12 March at the same theatre Donizetti’s Marin Faliero flopped and was withdrawn after only five performances. Donizetti was disappointed, while Bellini hardly could hide his satisfaction. There was obviously some rivalry between the two, even though Donizetti thought very highly about his younger compatriot. On 23 September Bellini suddenly died, and Donizetti wrote the Messa di Requiem, speedily as was his wont. He made arrangements to have it performed in December the same year, but for unclear reasons it never happened, which was Donizetti’s second disappointment. It was a long time before it eventually was performed on 28 April 1870 in Bergamo, in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the same church where the present recording was made, almost another 150 years later. Donizetti had been dead for 22 years when this happened. The reception was cool, but some pieces were mentioned as good in a contemporary review. The review ended “The performance was weak”, which may explain the mediocre impression the Mass made.

Donizetti’s output of church music is limited, and most of what he wrote is from his early years while he was still a pupil of Simon Mayr (1763 – 1845), who besides more than 70 operas also composed an impressive body of church music, some of which has been recorded in Naxos’s ongoing series of Mayr’s work. Puccini learnt a lot from the Bavarian master, even though one can’t put one’s finger on specific features.

It is a rather large work with a playing time of almost 70 minutes, and still the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei movements are excluded. Whether this was intentional or just lack of time is not known. The Mass is written for five soloists, choir, organ and orchestra. In addition to the normal soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists there is an extra bass, appearing only in two movements. The two female soloists have fairly little to do, but the tenor and ‘ordinary’ bass are so much busier. The organ part is very prominent and the work opens with an organ solo. A lot of the music is powerful, the end of the Kyrie (tr. 2) very effective. In Dies irae two strong rolls on the timpani get the movement to a spectacular start, which is followed by energetic, almost forceful and lively music that is one of the highlights of the work.

Tuba mirum for tenor and two basses (!) is followed by Judex ergo for tenor and one bass. The soft tenor solo is beautifully sung, and then the bass enters and the two voices intertwine. Then the music grows in strength and tempo for the middle section. The opening theme returns but now up-tempo and we recognize Donizetti, the opera composer. A memorable movement!

Rex tremendae opens powerfully and then follows a beautifully restrained soprano solo, a beautiful choir, a bass solo and the choir again, everything sensitively performed. Ingemisco is, as in Verdi’s Requiem, a tenor solo, here with ‘sighing’ accompaniment. The ‘aria’ is beautiful and very beautifully and sensitively sung with attractive lyrical tone. But it is the organ that gets the last word. In the following Praeces meae alto, tenor and bass are accompanied by the brass section. Very touching. Timpani introduces a strong and lively Confutatis maledictis five soloists, choir and orchestra. The Oro supplex is a bass solo – very beautiful too. The Lacrymosa for choir with fanfare like accompaniment is another highlight. Restrained opening with a powerful second half, where Donizetti reveals his talent for contrapuntal writing.

The organ again opens the Offertorio for bass solo and male choir. It is in rocking ¾-time with plucked strings and prominent French horns, and could almost be a serenade from an opera. A short Lux aeterna for choir is a bridge over to the concluding Libera me Domine for four soloists, choir and orchestra. In spite of the length there is never a feeling that the work is loosely put together. There is rather an almost eager stringency, as if Donizetti wants to carry the music further to the unavoidable Libera me.

All in all this is an attractive work that should be heard more often. The playing and singing of the concerted forces of Donizetti Opera is committed and Corrado Rovaris holds the many strands of the score in tight reins. The soloists do a worthy job and I want to give a special laurel wreath to tenor Juan Francisco Gatell for his sensitive lyrical singing and stylishness.

The recording is excellent and my only regret is that the applause after the performance is retained. It is a profanation of a deeply felt religious work. But don’t let that deter you from listening to this post humus homage from one composer to another.

Göran Forsling

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