Rossini’s Petite Messe – Berlin Classics C

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This late work of Rossini’s is a little masterpiece. Composed for the consecration of a private chapel in 1863/64, its forces are small–four solo singers, smallish chorus, two pianos, and a harmonium. Meyerbeer and Ambroise Thomas were at the performance, and it’s a pity neither learned a thing from it. The “little ceremonial mass” presents Rossini at his most lyrical and intimate, and in its solo piano piece after the Credo makes us wish that Rossini had paid more compositional attention to that instrument. The work is not like his Stabat Mater, which is very operatic and requires great virtuosity; rather its tone tends to be pious and intimate. The Christe eleison is performed by the chorus a cappella (as are other bits throughout the work–oddly enough, most of the Sanctus), and although the parts for soloists require fine, professional singers, they are not meant to dazzle, but to implore and move. This is the best performance of it on disc. There are many others (a couple of them in an orchestrated version, one with Pavarotti and Freni that turns the work into a Thanksgiving Day float), but none gets the devotional focus so ideally, while at the same time allowing us to appreciate the singing.

Angela Maria Blasi sings unaffectedly, and Yvonne Naef’s creamy alto blends well and is impressive in solo passages too; Don Bernardini almost lapses into operatic tenor-dom but doesn’t, and Marcos Fink sounds eerily like Thomas Hampson when he sings softly, but he’s never as annoyingly self-righteous about it. And they all sing the text as if it meant something dear to them. The pianists and harmonium player are first rate and Rolf Beck keeps everything flowing and deep. A real winning performance of a great work.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: this is it

GIOACHINO ROSSINI - Petite messe solennelle

  • Angela Maria Blasi (soprano)
    Yvonne Naef (alto)
    Don Bernardini (tenor)
    Marcos Fink (baritone)
    Paul Rivinius, Michele Kerschenmeyer (pianos)
    Michael Meyer (harmonium)
  • Beck, Rolf (conductor)
  • Suddeutsches Vokalensemble

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