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Briefly Noted: More of Pappano's Rossini

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Rossini, Petite Messe Solennelle, M. Rebeka, S. Mingardo, F. Meli, A. Esposito, Coro e Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome, A. Pappano

(released on April 23, 2013)
EMI 4 16742 2 | 103'19"
This is the latest in the series of live recordings of the Chorus and Orchestra of Rome's Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, from EMI. The Petite Messe Solennelle is the largest composition Rossini completed after he had unexpectedly quit writing operas with Guillaume Tell thirty years earlier, and arguably the best. Its Kyrie movement, in particular, is original and affecting, something to be stacked against almost any other setting of the Latin Mass (perhaps due to his close study of the sacred works of J. S. Bach in this period), while Rossini turned to more stock operatic gestures, including aria-like pieces for soloists, in the longer movements. Rossini dutifully concludes both Gloria and Credo with double fugues for the "Cum sancto spiritu" and "Et vitam venturi saeculi" movements, which are more competent and effective than contrapuntal attempts by many other 19th-century composers. Both are regrettably capped off with what sounds like something from an opera buffa finale (in particular, the decision to top off the Creed movement with a final ecstatic "Credo!" approaches vulgarity).

This recording, led by the genial conductor Antonio Pappano, suffers from the same problems as the earlier recordings in the series with the same forces -- Guillaume Tell, the Verdi Requiem, and Rossini's Stabat Mater (which we reviewed live twice, by me in Siena and by Jens in Salzburg -- some mediocre instrumental sounds (in the opening phrases, for example), choral intonation issues (noticeable after unaccompanied passages, for example), and occasional lack of ensemble cohesion. This is not to mention the usual drawbacks of live recordings, like audience noises, minor blemishes in the performance, and Pappano's tendency to use audible breaths to give cues. The good part, and this is also true of most of Pappano's recordings, is that he once again works with a strong quartet of soloists, best in the middle, with fine solo contributions from mezzo-soprano Sara Mingardo and tenor Francesco Meli. Soprano Marina Rebeka sings well but does not have the sort of voice that one wants to luxuriate in during the odd soprano solo "O salutaris hostia," inserted before the Agnus Dei (in contrast to Mingardo, who owns the big solo passages in the Agnus Dei). The odd organ introduction to the Sanctus is here played nicely, but somewhat blandly, by Daniele Rossi.

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