Monday, August 29, 2022

Excellent performance from choir and musicians

City Choir Dunedin, Petite Messe Solennelle, Knox Church, Sunday, August 28 

Knox Church was yesterday’s venue for City Choir Dunedin’s performance of Petite Messe Solennelle, by Gioachino Rossini. 

The 50-member choir was in excellent form in the well-filled church. 

Luckily there was a plan B for these uncertain times, as both an advertised soloist and pianist were unavailable. David Burchell conducted and the soloists were soprano Rebecca Ryan, mezzo Sarah Court (replacing Claire Barton), tenor Jared Holt and bass Federico Freschi. 

In his earlier years, Rossini composed about 40 operas, but after 30 years and at the age of 71, he "came out of retirement" in 1863 to write a Mass for the inauguration of a private chapel, originally a salon-styled work, very operatic in style, with piano and harmonium accompaniment. (Rossini did orchestrate the work at a later date.) 

Pianists Tom McGrath (replacing Sandra Crawshaw) and John van Buskirk provided excellent accompaniment throughout, with Ron Newton on a harmonium adding a legato quality to the more percussive character of pianoforte scoring. I felt the harmonium could have been much stronger in volume, many times when underpinning the two pianos. 

After a couple of rather ominous heavy chords, a spirited forward-moving introduction launched the Kyrie and the choir immediately impressed with a fine balance of harmony and nuance. The entire work is frequently punctuated with dramatic contrapuntal passages, crammed with unexpected rhythmic surprises and modulations. 

The sacred text declares it a Mass, and there was no mistaking the lengthy florid A-men’s but the piano Preludio religioso was a beautiful passage in secular style which could well be mistaken for a Beethoven work, and the various solos were indeed intensely operatic in delivery. 

Ryan’s solos were superb, lyrical and immaculate in their interpretation. 

Freschi was rich and powerfully operatic, Holt matched with compelling tenor strength and Court maintained strong resonance in her lowest passages, something that is sometimes missing with mezzo lines. 

Well done to all in presenting Rossini’s Petite Messe with such intense drama and excellent musicianship.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, ODT, 29 August 2022

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