Saverio Mercadante: Messa Solenne for soloists, male chorus and orchestra. © 2023 Dynamic Srl

CD Spotlight

More Operatic than Liturgical

GEOFF PEARCE listens to Mercadante's Messa Solenne

'... a most welcome recording of music by what is today a relatively little-known composer.'


I was looking forward to hearing this work, as apart from the Flute Concerto made famous in a James Galway recording, Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) was not known to me. He was an important composer of opera and church music, particularly in and around Naples, where he lived for most of his life. He is regarded as the most important composer of Italian opera between Donizetti and Verdi, and was highly regarded, even by such composers as Liszt.

This work is over seventy minutes long, and was of interest to me because there are extensive concertante passages for both cor anglais and violin. He was quite ambitious for his time harmonically, and was also a master of counterpoint.

Right from the outset, I could sense that his skill in writing for an operatic chorus was evident here. The opening Kyrie starts in quite a brooding fashion with some interesting harmonic shifts. When the chorus and full orchestra enter, I can't help but think that his music must have been an influence on Verdi, even though their relationship was often stormy.

Listen — Mercadante: Kyrie (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 1, 1:34-2:17) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

The Gloria begins with a brass fanfare and again, the style is quite operatic rather than liturgical. This is quite a rousing, happy movement, as the subject matter would indicate. Again, there are some very interesting harmonic progressions.

Listen — Mercadante: Gloria (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 2, 1:50-2:39) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

For In Terra Pax the chorus and orchestra are joined by a male soloist for the first time, in this case a tenor, who bursts forth in full operatic voice, with interjections from the chorus. In the second half, the chorus sings what was the tenor material of the first half, to grand effect.

Laudamus Te again uses a tenor soloist, but instead of the chorus, his partner is a bass soloist. There are some beautiful touches from the orchestra here, especially from the woodwind. Again, I think the overall flavour is straight out of the operatic world, rather than the church. Perhaps this is one reason why his church music has been somewhat neglected.

Listen — Mercadante: Laudamus Te (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 4, 4:27-5:15) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

Gratias uses a baritone soloist, along with an extensive cor anglais part which is performed beautifully by Francesco Biraga. This would be a beautiful part to play and is quite operatic in nature and reflects the warm human quality of the instrument. After an brief orchestral interjection, the baritone soloist enters, and the cor anglais then takes more of an obligato role.

Listen — Mercadante: Gratias (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 5, 1:22-2:17) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

Domine Deus features two tenors and a bass soloist, and has some delicious writing for the voices and accompanying orchestra.

Qui Tollis features a violin obligato, bass soloist and chorus. The violin part is quite soloistic, and would not be out of place in a concerto movement, so the term 'obligato' does not do it full justice. The Qui Tollis feels more weighty and perhaps a bit more liturgical than the previous movements.

Listen — Mercadante: Qui Tollis (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 7, 5:33-6:26) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

Quonium for tenor soloist is more in the heroic operatic style, with some very beautiful singing.

Cum Sancto Spiritu starts softly, but soon crescendos to a climax, before dying away, and then a full blooded section fires the spirit in true operatic fashion.

The Credo, by far the longest of the movements at some fifteen minutes, uses the chorus, along with a tenor and a baritone soloist. In this grand movement, which is again harmonically quite bold, the composer fully realises his boldness. After a lengthy choral opening, the baritone enters in a more reflective mood, and the overall tone is somewhat darker, as is fitting in the Crucifixus section. Most magnificent and varied, the chorus and soloists have some really grand moments here.

Listen — Mercadante: Credo (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 10, 5:30-6:21) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

The Sanctus, much briefer and quite operatic in nature, is for chorus and orchestra and has some quieter, reverent moments too.

The final Agnus Dei, brief at under three minutes, is altogether a calmer affair, for orchestra and soloist, and rounds off the work nicely.

Listen — Mercadante: Agnus Dei (Messa Solenne)
(CDS7986 track 12, 1:22-2:18) ℗ 2023 Dynamic Srl :

The soloists and orchestra are in fine form on this great recording. The first time I listened, I was rather underwhelmed, but on second hearing I warmed a lot more to this work and to the performance generally. It certainly is more operatic than liturgical, rather like Rossini's Stabat Mater and Verdi's Requiem. This is certainly a most welcome recording of music by what is today a relatively little-known composer.

Copyright © 15 May 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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