All of this is to introduce a beautiful concert I was able to attend Friday evening, thanks to the kindness of one of the performers. I heard the New York Choral Society perform Mr. Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle. I'm a lover of vocal and choral music and a veteran church music singer. Choral music gets me right here. (You know where I'm pointing, gentle reader. Sure you do.)
As the program notes (by Maureen Hopkins, copyright 1998) inform us, petite refers to the performing resources as intended by Mr. Rossini, and solennelle refers to the occasion for which it was intended, a high mass. The mass was originally scored for a small choir, two pianos, and harmonium. We heard it on Friday with a large choir (almost too large for the stage), two pianos, and a pipe organ, at Alice Tully Hall.
Wikipedia tells us that Mr. Rossini wrote the following preface upon completion of the mass:
Good God—behold completed this poor little Mass—is it indeed sacred music [la musique sacrée] that I have just written, or merely some damned music [la sacré musique]? You know well, I was born for comic opera. Little science, a little heart, that is all. So may you be blessed, and grant me Paradise!
I only knew sections of the work before last night, but am now totally enchanted by the work as a whole. I smiled through much of the performance, and I walked away determined to own at least one recording and a score. (I have added two recordings to my Amazon store at the right. Please to be clicking for that and all your Amazon.com shopping.)
I wish my seats had not been so good. I think I'd have heard the organ better from farther back in the auditorium, and would likely not have heard some of the individual choristers--nice voices, of course--but rather a more unified sound. These are just quibbles (just like my complaint about wearing wrist watches with formal wear--what, you have some place to be?), and overall it was a fine performance. The New York Choral Society is a good group, and although I'm not sure I'd give them prizes for subtlety, they sang the work with love and care under the direction of John Daly Goodwin.
The quartet of soloists was excellent. I've written of bass Daniel Mobbs before. He sang Oroveso in last summer's Norma at Caramoor, and I wrote at the time that I liked him very much. He sang the bass solos with the tonal beauty and musical subtlety of a very intelligent performer.
Tenor Michele Angelini has a glorious voice and is quite a handsome lad, and will likely go far--among this season's engagements are Armida at the Met--but one longed for a little more subtlety. Whither phrasing? My one-word impression of him was young--not in sound, which was fresh and free, but rather in musical approach and, it must be said, in stage deportment. Was the high D at the end of Domine Deus really necessary? (And he needs better shoes to go with his tux.)
Soprano Joyce El-Khoury and mezzo Marjorie Elinor Dix both looked lovely and sang beautifully. The soprano aria O salutaris hostia, one of the sections of the work I was unfamiliar with, was perfectly beautiful in the hands of Ms. El-Khoury. She sings with a rich, even tone and phrasing. Ms. Dix gave us a stunning performance of the Agnus Dei, alto solo with choir. An interesting way to end the piece, but very effective.
I simply can not neglect the beautiful and sensitive playing of David Gifford at the piano. The two-piano and harmonium version worked for me largely because of Mr. Gifford's intelligent and musical playing of what we might otherwise expect to be orchestra passages. The audience awarded him a well-deserve and very vocal ovation at the end of the concert.
My divine weekend continues with today's HD matinee broadcast of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Met and a performance of Piazza Navona by Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre this evening. I also have several singer profiles in the works, a series I began last fall but haven't been able to continue with until now. I'm going to be very posty for the next few days!
My companion for the concert was Lucy, creator Opera Obsession blog. Check her out.