Elonora Buratto Soprano
Teresa Iervolino Mezzo-soprano
Lawrence Brownlee Tenor
Michael Spyres Tenor
Carlo Lepore Bass
Maria Irsara Cor anglais
Alessandro Carbonare Clarinet
Orchestra and Chorus of
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Sir Antonio Pappano Conductor
Warner Classics 5054197234521
The hardest thing for people with preconceptions to accept about Rossini’s Mass is how jolly it is. But why not? There is no reason why glorification should be a solemn business.
If one is going to set words saying how wonderful the celestial being is, there’s not much point in making it miserable. It is profoundly unProtestant, however, and for those steeped in the various post-Lutheran creeds (or for that matter the grimly terrified Catholicism of Inquisition infested Spain) a liturgical work as spirited in the best sense as Rossini’s must be immediately suspect. I mean, having a Kyrie introduction that sounds as if it is about to launch into The Barber of Seville can’t be serious!
Actually it is an uplifting Mass in every way and perfectly serious, though the choral writing and brass in the Qui Tollis is suitably portentous, despite its skipping string and wind obbligato. Rossini’s 1820 audience in the Chiesa di San Ferdinando in Naples would have expected nothing less from their favourite opera composer: religious ecstasy combined with drama. Glorification requires virtuosity.
Pappano understands all this (as he explains in an extensive interview in the sleeve note) and paces the Mass beautifully, relishing the staccato and pizzicato strings, giving the melodies plenty of space to reveal themselves. He also explains that the orchestra’s role (with clarinet solo in the Quoniam nimbly played by Alessandro Carbonare) is far more important than would have been normal in church or even the opera. He makes the most of its symphonic weight and it becomes an equal partner with the solo singers in the recording.
For the most part, the recording is exemplary. There are two caveats, though. I find the timbre of the two tenors less than attractive and the mezzo does that annoying big soprano thing of sounding as if she has a mouthful of marshmallow; the words are masticated. However the bass, Carlo Lepore, is magnificent without rumbling and Elonara Burato has the agility one wants in a Rossini soprano while always giving the music a little more substance.
These days we are used to the precision of the period movement choirs in early 19th century music and this one is very much a latter day Roman chorus, a touch fruity and not always very together. It is also placed quite far back in the balance (though the effect of distance is less pronounced on headphones than on speakers) with the result that it fails to achieve the sheer overwhelming immediacy the music deserves. So two and a half cheers for this recording – fine orchestral playing, intelligent conducting and two out of five splendid singers.