Ottavio Dantone

Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle

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One nameless wag pointed out that Rossini's Petite messe solennelle, composed in the 1860s in Rossini's old age, was neither little nor solemn; it may be rather sunny (although no more so than most of Mozart's masses), but in fact in its original form -- for chorus, two pianos, and harmonium -- it has a delightfully intimate spirit. Rossini himself made an orchestral arrangement later. Although the booklet refers to a contention that the orchestral version, performed here, represents Rossini's true intentions, it's a bit hard to figure out the argument, and the mixture of tuneful, almost comic-opera-style arias with strict choruses in the style of Bach and even Palestrina seems more coherent in the smaller version. At any rate, this live performance is a real mixture of forces. Some may or may not feel that they hang together, but the performance is not dull. First there's the ultra-smooth French choir Accentus, transferring its characteristic sound from its usual French repertory of the 19th century's end. Accentus and the Orchestre Chambre de Paris are led by Ottavio Dantone, a historical-instrument specialist from Italy (no attempt at historical reconstruction is made here). And the four soloists, as so often with guest-star lineups of this type, have wildly differing sounds. Soprano Julia Lezhneva and alto Delphine Galou make a striking contrasting pair with Lezhneva's icy brilliance set in high profile next to Galou's rich foghorn sound. But the two men, especially heroic tenor Michael Spyres, jump out of the music a bit too far. Nevertheless, this is a high-octane Petite messe solennelle, with plenty of drama and a great deal of beautiful singing, most of all from the choir. Rossini enthusiasts will welcome it.

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