From the misleading title of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, one might imagine that the main programme of the long awaited reopening of the Tokyo’s leading hall would be either “petite” or “solemn”. Actually, not quite! The Messe and the concert were grand, engaging, and celebratory; anything but petite.

Brass players outside Suntory Hall
© Suntory Hall

After nearly seven months of undergoing interior renovation, Suntory Hall marked the beginning of its grand comeback with a fanfare opening of Gabrieli’s Canzon septimi toni no. 2. The brass players were staged up on the balcony section of the seats, maximizing the echo effect of the piece, reaching every inch of the hall with their well-controlled and balanced projection. This was followed by J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Trumpet and Organ in D major, which the gorgeous and simple slow second movement took the audience to the Baroque era. The organist, a bit nervous sounding for these two pieces, wowed the audience by performing two virtuosic French solo works, immersing everyone in the hall in the pipe organ’s indescribably charming sound. As if as an encore to the first half of the programme, the brass ensemble performed Strauss’ An der schönen blauen Donau. Though slightly too calculated, it was refreshing to listen to a brass arrangement of the waltz, as it added an extra festive feel. These entrée pieces were delightful and filling, but the main course topped the quality of the first half.

Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle is about 80 minutes long in duration, and even though the work follows the usual mass form and uses Latin text, it somehow doesn’t have the usual “sacred” feel. The irony of this misnomer is that it was originally scored for unusually small instrumentation (thus the Petite): twelve singers, including four soloists, two pianos and harmonium. Rossini later arranged the piece for a full orchestra and for tonight’s concert, an edition published by Fondazione Rossini in 2013 was used (Japan première), calling for choir, four solo voices (SATB), full orchestra and organ.

Giuseppe Sabbatini
© Suntory Hall

The sotto voce opening of Kyrie was so together and was with such focus that it immediately caused goosebumps. The diction and the volume control of the choir was astonishing throughout. Giuseppe Sabbatini was a distinguished tenor before he switched to conducting, and his spirited and easy-to-understand beat definitely enhanced the level of the choir’s output. Sabbatini often gave “play softer” cues to the orchestra, however, the balance between orchestra and chorus was quite ideal. If anything, the solo voices at times were not penetrating enough, though it may have to do with where I was sitting.

Among all the solo sections, the soprano Tamayo Yoshida was most memorable in the Crucifixus in the Credo. Perfect harmony, balance and just beautiful singing immediately after a full sound from the choir and orchestra at the end of Credo must not have been so easy to deliver. The Et resurrexit was another highlight as it was the first time that the four voices sounded perfectly knit together with strong choral support. The transition into the fugue, ending powerfully with the word credo, was very convincing.

Rossini's Petite Messe Solenelle in Suntory Hall
© Suntory Hall

Until the moment, when the last sound of the E major chord in Agnus Dei completely vanished into the air, the focus of the performers were never lost, and the excitement and the joy of the music did not cease to flow from the stage. Several of Tokyo’s finest groups collaborated in successfully delivering this piece under Sabbatini, making the re-opening of the Hall with another unforgettable concert. Tonight’s concert program was more than suitable to commemorate the event, raising the expectation level of what is more to come at the Hall.