Rossini: Petite messe solennelle

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Hänssler faszinationmusik
WORKS: Petite messe solennelle
PERFORMER: Lucia Mazzaria (soprano), Helene Schneiderman (mezzo-soprano), Kenneth Tarver (tenor), Reiner Holthaus (bass), Roberto Szidon, Richard Metzler (piano), Detlef Dörner (harmonium); SWR Stuttgart Vocal Ensemble/Rupert Huber
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.053
This 1995 recording is claimed as the first to be made of the original version of Rossini’s late sacred work as preserved in his autograph – as opposed to various published editions, most of which drop one of the pianos from the two pianos and harmonium the composer asked for. In addition it benefits from a list of metronome markings in Rossini’s hand discovered in the Brussels Conservatory, which encourages the bass aria ‘Quoniam’ to go at quite a lick, in contrast to the usual deferential approach.

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It’s hard to capture the spirit of this piece, which is arguably intended to raise the odd smile, but somehow manages to maintain a genuinely reverential stance (presumably Rossini considered that humour had a place even in divine worship). Conductor Rupert Huber makes a case for a strict adherence to the text, and the result is conscientious and broadly likeable. The accompaniment, however, is heavy-handed and not helped by the recording, which is close and hard-edged, with the already indistinct harmonium lost at times. And the solo quartet is uneven, with light-voiced tenor and bass mismatched with a heavier soprano and mezzo. The former is frequently unsteady.

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In theory it’s a worthy project and certainly of interest, but the quality is intermittent. Most recordings opt for Rossini’s own full orchestration, but that’s too overblown and operatic for a piece conceived on an intimate scale. Preferable is Marcus Creed’s small-scale version, with period instruments. George Hall