Spring Concert - Sunday, 12th May 2019
Petite Messe Solennelle, Gioachino Rossini
Messa di Gloria, Giacomo Puccini
Review by D.H. Macdonald
With late afternoon sunlight pouring into Dunblane Cathedral on 12th May, the Rosenethe Singers enjoyed Italian temperatures as they presented their Italian Double Bill Programme.
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
Messa di Gloria
The Puccini Mass is the product of his musical education - a piece from his youth which, like the operas Edgar and Le Villi, were exhumed in the 1980s as vehicles for Placido Domingo in the great "rush to record everything” years. Being an academic exercise, Puccini evidences in the work many of the compositional techniques demanded of a student at that time, and the Rosenethe duly met those challenges head on, and largely in full, round tone. The work, however, is not “Him” by any means and the sensual genius of verismo opera, was yet to develop. The Singers and soloists delivered a good solid performance, but it is the older work which really excited and enchanted.
Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868)
Petite Messe Solennelle
Many musicians have just cause to envy Rossini and his phenomenal popularity. His career seems short until you examine the sheer volume of the operas he composed and the speed and rapidity at which he slaved away to earn his reputation. Petite Messe Solennelle is the product of his retirement in comfortable Paris where he was fêted constantly. This music demands two things: (1) that the music is firmly “in the throat” (meaning one can be fearless about the technique); and (2) sufficient temperamental engagement with the theatricality of “Italian” Roman Catholicism. In some performances you get one, in others you get the other. On Sunday, we largely got both, as evidenced by the warm applause at the end.
There was so much to enjoy in this performance. In the opening movement, the Singers were quick to respond to Duggan's brisk tempo, capturing both the style of the music and a prayerful atmosphere. Initial consonants in the Latin were really crisp and the harmonic resolutions, as the music built up, were tightly controlled dynamically. The following a cappella section felt very much like the Rosenethe on “Home Ground”, and the Singers coped really well with Rossini's grand exposition to the work.
The Gloria leapt off the page with some full-throated Italianate singing, but I have to say the ladies of the Singers get the prize for security of attack and diction. The Cum Sancto - very much a highlight of the work - projected well into the Cathedral and at a sensible tempo adopted by Duggan (oh how Italian bandmasters love to drive this movement like a train). It is a long work and the batteries were beginning to fade a little post Crucifixus, but form was duly regained, and the control evidenced at the start of the evening returned in the choral contributions to the Agnus Dei. It is a challenging work and hard to sing “serious stuff” with a comic opera buffa happening underneath.
Frankly, one of your best nights.
At the outset, I state my admiration for any singer who attempts Rossini in any of his vocal guises. He is an individual and his style is all his own. In quartet passages the soloists blended really well. The bass, Jolyon Loy, exhibited a very honeyed baritone above the stave with some lovely legato singing. The evening’s tenor, Robin Horgan, demands special mention for his skill in keeping his voice “within the mask” and projecting well into the Cathedral: a most enjoyable timbre. The soprano, Ursula Bambuch, is in possession of a beautiful, refined instrument and an agile responsive technique. The ravishing mezzo of Lauren Young is another young artist to follow. This is potentially a big voice and the opera house may well be the natural arena for her talents.
The Mass is scored for piano duet and the hard-working pianist, Ingrid Sawers, performed the Herculean task of playing 4-handed music with 2. Impressively, she still found time to bring out the humour in Rossini's trills and hyperactive figuration and consistently supported the Singers admirably throughout. Robin Bell's contribution on the harmonium provided subtle support during the evening.
I have long admired Mr Duggan’s subtle shaping of a musical phrase and I wondered if he could channel his inner Italian Bandmaster for the evening. Oh yes, he did! Bravo.
On leaving the Cathedral, a little girl attending the performance skipped past me wearing a cat-ears headband. I found myself humming Rossini's Cat Duet and marvelling that it came from the same pen as the music I had just had the pleasure of hearing.