Rossini: Petite Messe/SWR Stuttgart

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Composed in 1863 as a commission for a friend who wanted to consecrate a private chapel dedicated to his wife, the Petite messe solennelle is a thoroughly absorbing work. Unusually scored for two pianos and harmonium (Rossini later orchestrated it so that others would not), along with four soloists and eight choir members (“of three sexes,” as Rossini put it on the title page), it is far more pious than his Stabat Mater (which is nothing if not operatic in approach, scoring, and vocal line)–but it still won’t inspire most people to fall to their knees. It abounds in lovely melodies, but they’re more modest than flashy, and the pianos and harmonium can sound anything from sparse to rich to eerie. According to conductor Rupert Huber in the program notes, this performance observes the composer’s metronome markings as no version has before; and indeed, if you compare it with say, Corboz’s on Erato, which distorts some of the tempos so severely that you’d think the “Christe eleison” had been composed for a mambo contest, it does indeed make more sense throughout. On the other hand, Huber’s chorus is larger than eight voices, so there goes total authenticity (not to mention the “three sexes”).

The performance is very good despite a soprano soloist who is fine when blending but pretty nasty sounding in her two solos. The tenor is splendid, the bass not overly weighted (and he attempts a trill), and the contralto rich-voiced. The chorus is excellent and right on the rhythm: the “cum sancto spirito” is really spirited but avoids exaggeration.

Highest kudos go to the instrumental soloists and the balance engineers. Rossini’s piano solo (“Preludio religioso”) is a fine, puzzling, engrossing movement and it’s beautifully played (with no less than Roberto Szidon at Piano I); elsewhere, it’s easy to tell why Rossini chose that particular combination and the sonics allow us to appreciate the texture. There used to be a version of this work, properly scored, on the Everest-Cetra label, with Renata Scotto, Alfredo Kraus, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Ivo Vinco all at their most refined. It was a delight, and frankly, so is this one. It captures the sincerity and romanticism of the work as does no other recorded version.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: this is it

GIOACHINO ROSSINI - Petite messe solennelle

  • Lucia Mazzaria (soprano)
    Helene Schneiderman (alto)
    Kenneth Tarver (tenor)
    Reiner Holthaus (bass)
    Roberto Szidon, Richard Metzler (piano)
    Detlef Dorner (harmonium)
  • Huber, Rupert (conductor)
  • SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart

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