Gioachino Rossini – Stabat Mater, Petite Messe solennelle
Petite Messe solennelle: Lucia Popp, soprano; Brigitte Fassbaender, contralto, Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Dimitri Kavrakos, baritone
Katia & Marielle Labèque, piano
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Conducted by Stephen Cleobury
Stabat Mater: Catherine Malfitano, soprano I, Agnes Baltsa, soprano II; Robert Gambill, tenor; Gwynne Howell, bass
Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musical Fiorentino
Riccardo Muti, conductor
EMI Classics, 2001
This double disc edition of Rossini’s sacred works collects two of the most important compositions (the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe solennelle) he wrote during the apparent period of creative “silence” that characterized the second half of his life after the end of his frenetic career as operatic composer.
Rossini’s Sacred Music
Together with the Messa di Gloria, the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe solennelle are among the major and the widest known of Rossini’s sacred works and reveal the composer’s spirituality that, although very likely present, is not as deep in its expression as that of the 18th century composers (Mozart and Haydn in particular) that inspired him in the composition of his operatic music.
Rossini received the commission of the Stabat Mater from state councilor Fernández Varela during his trip to Spain and worked on it between 1831 and 1841. His poor state of health did not allow him to complete the work in time for the premiere, which took place on Holy Saturday of 1833 in the Chapel of San Felipe el Real in Madrid, and obliged him to entrust to Giovanni Tadolini the finishing of six movements. The lower and old-fashioned quality of Tadolini’s pieces, anyway, later persuaded Rossini to write the remaining part of the music and in this version the Stabat Mater premiered at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris in 1842 with distinguished soloists as Giulia Grisi, Emma Albertazzi, Mario and Antonio Tamburini.
Petite Messe Solennelle
The Petite messe solennelle is a later composition as it was composed in 1863 in two versions, the first for two pianos, the second arranged for orchestra (it is the former that it is recorded in the present recording). The reason of composition may be the request of Count Alexis Pillet-Will as the work is dedicated to his wife Louise and Rossini considered it «the last of my péchés de vieillesse». The Petite was performed for the first time at Rossini’s home in Paris in 1864 and, as the place of the premiere suggests, was not intended for a liturgical destination.
Stabat Mater and Petite Messe Solennelle: the Performance
Petite Messe Solennelle
As it was stated before, the two works cannot be compared to those of the classical composers of a century before, but some hints of solemnity are still recognizable in the performance of the Petite Messe solennelle given by the Choir of King’s College. The accompaniment is provided by two pianos only, but the vocal ensemble becomes in a certain sense a substitute of the orchestra thanks to the echoes and murmurs that characterize its performance and that creates an evocative effect. In addition to this, the Petite Messe solennelle features some of the best singers of the time (and maybe of all the times), I mean Nicolai Gedda and Lucia Popp, together with the equally fine Brigitte Fassbaender and Dimitri Kavrakos, and their solo arias and duets are absolutely memorable.
The Stabat Mater is arranged for orchestra and, in the present case, it is precisely the Orchestra del Maggio Musical Fiorentino the real protagonist thanks to the conduction of Riccardo Muti. Muti gives a rather sombre reading of Rossini’s masterpiece, something that it is even more peculiar and astonishing considering the traditional, although inappropriate image of Rossini as a light-hearted, jovial composer who wrote mainly light music.
Nothing is so far from Muti’s interpretation as he is determined to cast a doom on the entire work and relaxes it only for a while to give vent to sorrow and pain in few passages where these feelings are expressed with a lyrical but nonetheless strong character. It is more usual anyway that the Stabat Mater reminds of an imminent catastrophe that is already present from the beginning of some sections (as in the tenor aria Cujus animan gementem) and freely develops itself in the Amen. In sempiterna saecula where, together with the ineluctable fate it is easy to guess the angry but hopeless reaction of a human soul to it.
Next to this marvellous conduction there are unfortunately soloists that only in the case of Agnes Baltsa are really fine, while the others have both vocal (as Catherine Malfinato’s thin voice and vibrato) and interpretative flaws (tenor Robert Gambill seems to follow a completely different path from that outlined by the Maestro, while bass Gwynne Howell lacks a real conviction).
This is the only negative aspect of the entire recording, but it is not enough to delete the wonderful impressions left by the beauty of Lucia Popp’s voice, Nicolai Gedda’s unmistakable temperament and Muti’s praiseworthy conduction.