On hearing Rossini's Petite messe solennelle, Napoleon III is said to have remarked that it was neither little, nor solemn, nor a mass (it includes the hymn "O salutaris hostia," not part of the conventional mass text). Rossini himself, who wrote very little for public consumption in his later years, spoke lightly and ironically of the work but contradicted himself by orchestrating it later on to make sure it would be preserved. The original work is for chorus, soloists, one or two pianos (both versions existed in Rossini's day), and harmonium. There are numerous recordings of all versions, but the keyboard forms, which respect the dimensions of the work, is preferable, and it receives a strong performance from conductor Tönu Kaljuste and the Kirchheimer Vokal-Consort here. This is a performance of the one-piano-and-harmonium score. The engineering team from Germany's Carus label achieves impressive results in the Noblessner Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, producing a highly resonant sound in a small space that fits Rossini's intentions perfectly, capturing the somewhat murky ruminations of the solo piano parts, which Rossini expanded as he went along, while keeping the glorious melodies of the choral parts clear. The soloists are drawn from within the eight-member choir, which works well enough in this situation; most of the solo material is purely operatic in nature. Few choirs could have furnished soloists who could handle this material; another famous comment on the work is that all you need to perform it is a small choir, a piano, a harmonium, and the four greatest singers on earth. But the German group here is up to the challenge (the soloists aren't even identified in the booklet), and the group functions impressively as a single unit. Kaljuste's moderate tempos and gentle choral attacks, combined with sharper piano textures and the marvelous harmonium, alternately spectral and triumphant, also serve the work well. The taste of some may run to a slightly larger group, but the performance here is an entirely feasible and attractive contribution to the chain of interpretations.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Petite Messe solennelle|