Small Solemn Mass
Sunday August 28
Knox Church was the venue yesterday for City Choir Dunedin’s performance of Small Solemn Massby Gioachino Rossini.
The 50-member choir was in excellent shape in the busy church.
Fortunately, there was a plan B for these uncertain times, as an advertised soloist and pianist were unavailable. David Burchell conducted and the soloists were soprano Rebecca Ryan, mezzo Sarah Court (replacing Claire Barton), tenor Jared Holt and bass Federico Freschi.
In his early years Rossini composed around 40 operas, but after 30 years and at the age of 71 he “came out of retirement” in 1863 to write a mass for the inauguration of a private chapel, at the originated as a salon-style work, very lyrical in style, with piano and harmonium accompaniment. (Rossini orchestrated the work at a later date.)
Pianists Tom McGrath (replacing Sandra Crawshaw) and John van Buskirk provided excellent accompaniment throughout, with Ron Newton on harmonium adding a legato quality to the more percussive character of the fortepiano score.
I felt the harmonium could have been much louder in volume, many times when it was supporting both pianos.
After some rather ominous heavy chords, a fiery forward introduction kicked off the Kyrie and the chorus immediately impresses with a fine balance of harmony and nuance. The work as a whole is frequently punctuated with dramatic contrapuntal passages, full of rhythmic surprises and unexpected modulations.
The sacred text declares a mass, and there was no doubt about the long and flowery A-men but the piano religious prelude was a beautiful passage in a secular style that could well be mistaken for a work by Beethoven, and the various solos were indeed intensely lyrical.
Ryan’s solos were superb, lyrical and immaculate in their performance.
Freschi was rich and powerfully operatic, Holt matched compelling tenor strength, and Court maintained a strong resonance in his lowest passages, something sometimes lacking with mezzo lines.
Congratulations to all for the presentation of Rossini Little Mass with such intense drama and excellent musicianship.