Rossini: Petite messe solennelle

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Petite messe solennelle
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Hilary Summers (contralto), Andrew Tortise, William Unwin (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass), Cary Cooper, Matthew Halls (piano), Mark Williams (harmonium); The King’s Consort/Robert King
Robert King and his Consort bring their musicological insights to bear on Rossini’s final, characteristic and yet highly idiosyncratic masterpiece. The instrumental forces consist of period pianos and a harmonium, eschewing the later full orchestral arrangement that Rossini made himself to prevent someone else doing so. (He is known to have preferred the original.) With a choir of just 12 voices, King also emulates the original vocal forces, though his dozen singers sound rather staid and English in music that in places demands a certain Latin flamboyance of approach and timbre. Rossini would surely have expected something more vivid


and at times quasi-operatic.

In the semi-jocular ‘Domine Deus’, for instance, tenor Andrew Tortise sounds stressed, though there’s a distinguished ‘Quoniam’ from bass Andrew Foster-Williams and some lovely duetting from soprano Carolyn Sampson and contralto Hilary Summers in the ‘Qui Tollis’. Most of the vocalism, however, needs turning up a notch or three.

So too does the conducting. King’s is very much a steady-as-she-goes approach, and while his tempos are often plausible and effective there’s not enough extroversion or even a sense of enjoyment. Rossini’s phrases, even in this ambiguously reticent and yet celebratory work, need more contouring, and his rhythms a subtle combination of rigour and flexibility.


The sound picture is not ideal either. Gary Cooper and Matthew Halls provide skilled pianism, with Mark Williams’s gentler tones on the harmonium making their proper impact, but they are too far backward in the overall sonic perspective. For a more stylish performance, and more expertly recorded, try Marcus Creed’s similarly scaled version on the Harmonia Mundi label. George Hall