That Rossini was a wag. The master of the bon mot, you suspect he probably had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he entitled his 1864 choral work the Petite Messe Solenelle. It is neither little nor solemn, lasting around 80 minutes, full of jaunty accompaniments. Rossinian good humour abounds and, in a spirited rendition by Wimbledon Choral Society, that good humour spilled across the platform of Cadogan Hall and into the audience. Even a labrador, snoozing gently a few rows in front, sniffed the air appreciatively and thumped his tail.
The WCS was having great fun too, epitomised by one of the more senior sopranos; she didn’t give conductor Neil Ferris much of a glance, but sang with gusto and a beaming smile. Where some amateur choruses can give the impression of dutiful performers, how heartening it was to see singers of all ages who clearly adore singing. Intonation wobbled early on, but this soon settled, with both volume and a great sense of presence in the Cum Sancto Spiritu.
The professional soloists did a sterling job. Experienced soprano Claire Seaton sang with appealing tone, while Anna Harvey’s soft-grained mezzo blended with her beautifully in the Qui tollis peccata mundi. Harvey projected well in the Agnus Dei, long phrases spun warmly. Baritone Matthew Sprange, once past the treacherously low F in the opening phrase of Et in terra pax, sang with firm tone and attention to dynamic detail. Tenor Ben Thapa was less disciplined in this respect, the Domine Deus (another Rossinian toe-tapper) delivered too aggressively for comfort. Ferris was a watchful conductor, shepherding his forces with plenty of smiles. His tempi were sensibly chosen – lively without being unwieldy for the size of his choir.
Before the concluding Sanctus and Agnus Dei, Rossini inserted a Prélude religieux, often performed on the piano but here performed mostly on the harmonium. It rather fitted the distinct impression of Rossini being not entirely serious. Religion behind a comedy mask… and all the better for it.
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