Rossini: Petite messe solenelle
In terms of scale, the so-called ‘Little Missa solemnis’ of Rossini’s old age is famously not little at all, but very much a full-length concert mass. Then again, the music’s idiom is remarkably light on its feet. The work began life in a version designed for private performance in the chapel of one of the composer’s aristocratic friends in Paris, and was scored for small choir and an accompaniment of two pianos and harmonium. Rossini’s subsequent full-orchestral version implies a larger style of performance – but to what extent?
Antonio Pappano opts for a strong-limbed, purposeful approach that has the music sounding neither trite nor portentous, pleasingly bringing together its charm and expansiveness. String tone, though quite weighty, is focused in firm lines; woodwind and brass vibrato is reduced, but not tendentiously so; and the not over-large choral and orchestral forces are super-accurate in the two deft and speedy fugues that conclude the Gloria and Credo.
The four high-quality soloists tread the same fine line with likeable sureness, while blending nicely together: Franceso Meli, a notch strident above mezzo-forte, offers quiet musicianship elsewhere, while Sara Mingardo’s dark and sumptuous mezzo is beautifully supple and precise. The recording comes from a series of concerts given in Rome’s Sala Santa Cecilia, complete with the expected minor distractions of the audience; the acoustic is clear and comfortable, and the balance between voices and orchestra very good.