University of Portsmouth Choir at the New Theatre Royal

Poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah

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IT IS NOT often that a musical setting of the Mass can be said to dance, but that is exactly what the university’s forces achieved in Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle.

It happened at the words Cum Sanctu Spiritu, and the ensuing Amen brimmed over with joy – both qualities matching the wishes of a composer mainly known for his comic operas.

He described the work as the last sin of his old age, but it was surely no sin to offer his maker an example of his personal genius, however unlikely the context.

The performance was given in Rossini’s original, preferred version with harmonium and two pianos, which is more effective than his later one for orchestra.

For example, the original is more successful in capturing the essential jauntiness of Rossini’s opening Kyrie and the busy rhythm against slow-moving words in the concluding Agnus Dei – as masterful conductor George Burrows, choir and instrumentalists readily proved. The lively choir was larger than ideal for this version but the vocal balance was sound throughout, with men unusually ranged across the front of the stage with the women behind.

Among a mostly secure team of soloists, tenor Edward Goater was outstandingly heroic in the Domine Deus and contralto Jennifer Samuel was powerful in the Agnus Dei.

One gripe: why an interval in an 80-minute work? It simply broke the music’s spell.