Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle is neither little nor solemn nor particularly liturgical. The composer himself called it a ‘poor little mass’, admitting that ‘you know I was born for comic opera’.
It’s certainly hard to imagine the piece in a traditional liturgical setting, suffused as it is with operatic melodies and glorious Bel Canto arias. But the influences of sacred choral masters such as Bach and Palestrina are evident too, with fugal and Renaissance-style polyphonic sections.
Portsmouth Choral Union joined by an impressive line-up of soloists beautifully conveyed the wit, parody and grace of this unconventional piece, with sensitive and skilled accompaniment on piano and harmonium.
The dynamics could be challenging for a large-scale chorus – rarely exceeding piano and often quadruple piano in places. Conductor David Gostick’s wise decision to mix the voice parts certainly helped in this respect and elicited a fantastic blend.
This was especially notable in the Gloria and the final luminescent Agnus Dei, which brought the concert to a gorgeous and dramatic close.
Rossini was a leapling – born on 29 February - and this performance was certainly a fitting birthday tribute.