Petite Messe Solennelle (Rossini)

 

 

Conservatorium Chorale

Music Auditorium, WAAPA

 

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

After enormously industrious years during which he churned out opera after opera (many of them masterpieces), Rossini devoted nearly all the rest of his life to laziness. As time ticked by, he began to worry how he’d be received at the gates of heaven. Would the shameless old wizard be ushered in with ceremony or turned away to a less than attractive eternity elsewhere? So he devised a sacred choral work that he hoped would be his entry ticket to celestial bliss. But, Rossini being Rossini, he couldn’t resist the temptation to send up the Mass – and a good deal of Petite Messe Solennelle is firmly tongue in cheek. It most certainly is not small and a good deal of it is anything but solemn. Most importantly for posterity which couldn’t care tuppence whether Rossini got into heaven or not, it’s full of good musical things.

 

A rare airing of the work on Thursday drew a full house to hear it to the

accompaniment of piano and harmonium – but one wondered why the second piano called for in the score was not used bearing in mind that such an instrument was already there onstage.

 

It is no small challenge to direct a work of this nature with a choir consisting of students from first through to final years, many with voices still very much in the process of development. Under these circumstances, the general quality of ensemble, despite occasional raggedness, was encouragingly disciplined with quality of corporate tone, for the most part, commendable. Certainly, momentum was very well maintained throughout.

 

Rossini’s Mass is peppered with solos and the standard of some of these was less than one might have wished. But two contributions stood out for their general excellence. Ryan Sharp – not to be confused with the racing driver of the same name – produced at all times a stream of finely shaped, warmly mellow tone. This is a voice that holds great promise.

 

As is often said, good things are worth waiting for – and this was most certainly the case here with the concluding Agnus Dei which was memorable for a frankly thrilling performance by Bernadette Lucanus. Clearly the beneficiary of the most skilled training, the musicianship she brought to bear on her solo, in which she clothed each note in beautifully refulgent tone, was one of the high points of the evening.

 

Micheal McCarthy, who works tirelessly in the cause of choral music, presided over events with distinction.

 

Lavish laurels to David Wickham whose musicality and musicianship at the piano deserve the highest praise. Stylistically, tonally and expressively it was musicmaking at a very high standard. And at the wheezing harmonium, Stewart Smith was no less on form, his solo near the conclusion of the Mass a model of its kind.


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