Monday, November 17, 2008
(Image from FAS-Harvard: Be sure to click on the image for a larger version!)
Blogging here has been light because life in real time has been (and continues to be) very busy. But Sunday afternoon I stole away to Cambridge and a center mezzanine seat at Harvard's beautiful Sanders Theatre for a Masterworks Chorale performance of Rossini's La Petite Messe Solonnelle. Yes, the composer of William Tell and The Barber of Seville also wrote a Catholic Mass. (Picture a vested priest getting a haircut while balancing an apple on his head as the Lone Ranger rides by alongside Tonto with a bow and arrow!)
Before raising his baton, conductor Steven Karidoyanes turned to the audience to offer some pre-concert commentary. Usually I find such remarks rambling, disconnected and hard to hear but this maestro was prepared, articulate and audible - and interesting. Among other things he introduced his listeners to one of the three instruments on stage. Rossini wrote La Petite Messe for 12 voices (including castrati), two pianos and a harmonium which Kraidoyanes defined as "an accordion on steroids." His definition wasn't far off but the sound is more pleasant than you might imagine. If my memory serves me well, I believe we were informed that the harmonium on state was built in 1897.
As the conductor pointed out, La Petite Messe Solonnelle is neither short nor solemn but rather lengthy with operatic sounds and flourishes abounding. It all makes for an interesting piece even if the elements are lack a certain balance.
For instance, listen to the opening third of the Kyrie here:
Now compare to the middle portion, the Christe, a perfect canon of fluid beauty:
And to round things out, here's the third portion of this piece, Kyrie II:
The program notes mentioned that Rossini referred to La Petite Messe as "the sin of my old age." Through most of the performance I interpreted his "sin" to be simply musical indulgence but there were moments when I wondered if the composer were playing with us (and his subject) just a bit. I leave that judgment to those who understand these matters far more expertly than I. Whatever Rossini's intentions, he gave us an exciting and interesting afternoon of music.
All the soloists (Meredith Hansen, soprano; Rebecca O’Brien, mezzo-soprano; Martin Kelly, tenor; and Marcus DeLoach, baritone) proved themselves worthy as did pianists Randall Hodgkinson and Leslie Amper - and Kevin Galié who played the muscular harmonium. The Chorale was excellent: a tight, balanced, articulate sound that showed both talent and attentive rehearsal. A friend with me suggested that he'd enjoy hearing the Chorale perform a piece in which the chorus had a large role. Having heard their performance this past spring of Bach's St. John Passion, I know his intuition is on target.
To a parishioner who sings in the Chorale, many thanks for the gift of two tickets! Brava, A.H.!
Posted by Austin Fleming at 6:00 AM