Neville Marriner / Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Rossini: Messa di Gloria

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Gioachino Rossini's Messa di Gloria of 1821, right in the middle of the years when he ruled the operatic scene, has been less often recorded than the free-spirited and personal Stabat Mater of his old age. Various reasons could be advanced for this comparative neglect. Stacked up against Rossini's operas of the period it's something of a mixed bag. Some of it is intensely operatic, but it also looks back to the past with its giant contrapuntal "Cum sancto spiritu" (the mass consists of a Kyrie and Gloria). From the point of view of the cult of individual Romantic genius, a major problem is that Rossini may have had a collaborator on the work, one Pietro Raimondi, who honed some of the more polyphonic passages. This 1992 recording deserves the "legendary" label attached to the packaging, for it makes positives of the work's problems and is splendidly performed all around. One can listen with the efforts of the all-star group of soloists foremost in mind; the controlled explosions of soprano Sumi Jo in the Laudamus te (track 5) stand out from a group of uniformly fine sacred arias. One can listen for the really exceptional sound of the Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, with the tenor section achieving an uncanny blazing sound in some of the denser choral writing. And all of this virtuoso work is brought together by conductor Neville Marriner, in one of the finest performances of his long career: he sets the chorus and soloists in a sharply carved contrast and creates an image that is dramatic as a whole, an image of a church and its flock of individual followers. The notes by early Italian opera specialist Philip Gossett are especially informative, and the fine original engineering is unscathed -- really a pleasure to hear in the solo arias. In all, this was a recording eminently worthy of reissue.

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