Rossini: Petite messe solennelle. © 2021 Outhere Music France

CD Spotlight

Balancing Intimacy with Incisiveness

A new recording of Rossini's 'Petite messe solennelle', recommended by GERALD FENECH

'Soloists and chorus deliver some flawless singing, and their great attention to the text creates a sense of reverential homage to the sacred.'


The Petite messe solennelle by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was composed in 1863, possibly at the request of Count Alexis Pillet-Will for his wife Louise, to whom it is dedicated. The composer of some forty operas, Rossini had been almost completely silent for more than thirty years. Indeed his last stage-work, William Tell, was performed in 1829, so this work can be considered as a milestone in Rossini's career. The composer seems to have been very fond of this piece, as he called it 'the last of my sins of old age'. This mass can be considered as a 'missa solemnis', but not without irony, the composer included the word petite (little).

Listen — Rossini: Gloria - Gracias (Petite messe solennelle)
(track 6, 2:44-3:43) ℗ 2021 Outhere Music France :

Scored originally for twelve singers, four of them soloists, two pianos and harmonium, the work was first performed on 14 March 1864 at the couple's new home in Paris, and the select audience was full of praise for the piece. Fearing that after his death other hands would tinker with his beloved mass, Rossini produced an orchestral version in 1867, but this was not performed in his lifetime because he could not obtain permission to perform it with female singers in a church. This orchestral version was premiered in Paris on 24 February 1869, three months after the master's death. While publications began that year, the first critical edition only appeared in 1980, followed by more editions in 1992, the bicentenary of Rossini's birth.

This delectable work was truly the composer's farewell to the world, and his final prayer to his creator, whom he so loved. Indeed, this is what Rossini wrote on the last page of the manuscript:

Dear Lord, here it is finished, this poor little mass. Have I just written sacred music, or rather sacrilegious music? I was born for 'opera buffa', as you well know. Not much technique, a little bit of heart, that's all. Blessings to you and grant me Paradise.

Listen — Rossini: Credo in unum Deum (Petite messe solennelle)
(track 11, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2021 Outhere Music France :

The unusual scoring is in the Neapolitan harpsichord tradition of the eighteenth century, and the music avoids the sentimental opulence of most contemporary liturgical works, such as those by Gounod. Maybe the best description of this mass comes from the pen of a reviewer for L'Illustration:

One could sense, from the first measures, the powerful spirit which animated this artist thirty years ago at the time when he chose to put a stop at his glorious career at its high point. The composer of 'William Tell' stands proudly before you in his eminence, and you realize with astonishment that neither time nor inactivity have caused any loss of intelligence with which he is so marvellously endowed. The same facility of invention, the same melodic abundance, the same nobility of style and the same elegance, the same novel twists, the same richness of harmony, the same audacity and happy choice of modulation, the same vigour of conception and of expression, the same ease of part-writing and disposition of the voice, the same masterful and authoritative skill in the overall scheme of the work, as well as in the structure of each movement.

Need I add more?

Listen — Rossini: Agnus Dei (Petite messe solennelle)
(track 18, 6:44-7:42) ℗ 2021 Outhere Music France :

Giulio Praudi handles the score based on the new critical edition by Davide Baolmi most effectively, balancing intimacy with incisiveness, wit with solemnity, joy with resignation. Soloists and chorus deliver some flawless singing, and their great attention to the text creates a sense of reverential homage to the sacred. Above all, the performance is permeated by a rare sensitivity to dynamics, which in this work are of paramount importance. Despite some stiff competition, this version can hold its head high with conviction.

Copyright © 17 October 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta







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