Available now. Following the success of two recent Rossini recordings, the sacred Stabat Mater and the opera William Tell, Antonio Pappano and his Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia have taken on the composer’s late masterpiece, the Petite Messe solennelle. The soloists are Marina Rebeka, Sara Mingardo, Francesco Meli and Alex Esposito. Like the earlier-mentioned Rossini titles, the Petite Messe solennelle was recorded in the Orchestra’s acoustically fine home, the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome.
Gramophone hailed the recording of the Stabat Mater as “one of the great choral recordings” and “a revelatory account” in which “Tender and expressive word-painting … is a feature of the entire performance, underpinned by Pappano’s superbly crisp yet endlessly considerate pointing of Rossini’s trademark rhythmic invention.” The Sunday Times wrote, “Pappano lives the text like the great opera conductor he is, bringing consolation as well as fire and brimstone to Rossini’s heady spiritual brew.” Of their William Tell release, The Independent wrote, “Rossini’s final opera is infrequently staged, and it’s unlikely anyone will try again soon: why risk comparison with Pappano’s magisterial presentation, the latest in a string of triumphs for the maestro?”
The soloists on this recording are the young Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka, whose recent debuts at Covent Garden, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wiener Staatsoper, Salzburg Festival and Metropolitan Opera have been superlatively received; the award-winning Italian contralto Sara Mingardo, whose voice has been praised for its “extraordinarily rich contralto depths and interpretive capabilities”; the Italian tenor Francesco Meli, who made his Covent Garden and MET debuts in Rigoletto, performed at La Scala and in Vienna with Riccardo Muti and recorded La sonnambula with Natalie Dessay and Sara Mingardo for Virgin Classics; and the young Italian bass Alex Esposito, especially noted for his interpretations of works by Mozart and Rossini.
Gioachino Rossini composed the Petite Messe solennelle in 1863 at his villa in Passy on the outskirts of Paris. He had moved there from Italy in 1855 with his Parisian-born second wife Olympe Pelissier and found that, after years of ill health during which he had stopped composing altogether, he felt much better in Paris. When he began to compose again, rather than operas, he turned his hand to smaller-scale works, instrumentally accompanied songs, piano and chamber music, which he referred to as his ‘Péchées de vieillesse’ (‘Sins of old age’). Many were performed at the Saturday evening soirees that he and his wife hosted at their home starting in the winter of 1858.
The Count and Countess Pillet-Will were bankers and friends of Rossini and it was to Countess Louise that the Petite Messe solennelle is dedicated. It is scored for twelve voices (four soloists and eight additional choristers), two pianos and harmonium. Rossini wrote at the top of the score, “Twelve singers of the three sexes, men, women and castrati will suffice for its performance: that is, eight for the chorus, four for the solos, twelve cherubim all told.” At the end of the score, he wrote, “Dear Lord, here it is finished, this poor little mass. Have I just written sacred music, or rather sacrilegious music? I was born for opera buffa, as you well know. Not much technique, a little bit of heart, that is all. Blessings to you and grant me Paradise.” The work was performed to consecrate the newly built private chapel at the Count and Countess’s grand new home and, shortly thereafter, for invited guests, although the composer did not attend either performance.
After that, he undertook to orchestrate the work – to ensure that no one else would do it after his death. During the orchestration process in 1867, he decided to add a previously composed piece for soprano, O salutaris hostia, between the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei of the Mass. On completion of the orchestration, Rossini put both versions away, permitting no further performances of either during his lifetime.
Shortly after Rossini’s death in November 1868, however, his widow sold performance rights to the orchestrated version to the impresario Maurice Strakosch, who arranged the first performance at the Théâtre Italien in Paris on 28th February 1869, as close as possible to the composer’s leap-year birthday on 29 February.