Because of the lasting popularity of the two songs by Charles Gounod and Franz Schubert, one usually thinks of the Ave Maria as either one or the other, without giving much thought to the various other versions they have eclipsed. If there is a service soprano Maria Rota performs on this self-released CD, it is to bring attention to the less famous settings of Marian prayer by Pietro Mascagni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Cherubini, Giuseppe Verdi, Jacob Arcadelt, and a handful of lesser lights. Included with these seldom-heard Ave Marias are settings of the Salve Regina by Giacomo Puccini, "Angiol di Pace" by Vincenzo Bellini, "Tu virginum corona" from Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate, and Verdi's "La Virgine degli Angeli," to vary the program somewhat with songs on the same theme, if not the same text. While this may be of value to devotees of religious music, the album is not particularly interesting on a musical level, for many of these songs have a common mood of reverence and, in most cases, a kind of overt sentimentality that explains why they are songs of a different age. Schubert's Ave Maria (originally Ellens Gesang III, from a German translation of Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake) and Gounod's Ave Maria (an adaptation of the Prelude in C major from Book I of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier) are indelible classics in the public's imagination, but the other settings have less staying power because of their excessive sweetness and sometimes outright imitation: piano arpeggios, which are central to both of the famous songs, can be the most trite of devices, but they become tedious and irksome when they dominate most of the songs on the program. Beyond this, Rota's style of singing is also of another time, for her wide vibrato and nearly operatic delivery seem old-fashioned and unlikely to win a modern audience for lieder. Add to that her straining for high notes and a few unfortunate intonation problems, and the performances are even less appealing. While this CD may attract the curious around the holiday season, it is a disappointing collection that only the truly devout might tolerate.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
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