…not the situation, but a performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle for Kent chorus. You might like to read it. They really are a highly-accomplished choral group.
If the sparkle of his music is anything to go by, I think that meeting Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) would probably have been an enjoyable experience. The same can most certainly be said of Kent Chorus’ latest presentation, the composer’s Petite Messe Solennelle. Despite the title, this work is anything but solemn although, if performed credibly, as it was this afternoon, there are moments of emotion and pathos. Indeed, there are many who hold with the notion that it is simply not possible to take the theatre out of Rossini, any more than it is to take Rossini out of the theatre. The composer was fêted internationally, retiring from active composition at the age of 37, a wealthy man. During the rest of his life he composed purely for his own enjoyment, referring to these works as his Péchés de vieillesse (“Sins of Old Age”). Petite Messe Solennelle is one of these “Sins”, being commissioned in 1863.
Kent Chorus opted for the original version for soloists, choir, two pianos and harmonium. Personally, I think that, on balance, I prefer Rossini’s orchestrated version, but that did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of today’s performance. The choir was not far off 120 voices and, as I have recorded before, produced choral music of the highest quality. Their entries, particularly in the fugal passages, were flawless and, from the expressions on their faces, they were thoroughly enjoying themselves! Their dynamic observation is also to be highly applauded – the range is quite considerable in the printed score and this was followed with great effect. I was particularly moved by their entry at the end of the Gloria (Adoramus te), only one page long, but it was quite magical, almost as an ethereal reaffirmation of what the solo quartet had just sung. This same feeling of calm and outstanding chordal balance was also achieved during the Dona nobis pacem interjections (sotto voce) during the final movement, Agnus Dei. For me, the real highlights of the afternoon were the Cum Sancto Spiritu in the Gloria and the Et vitam venturi in the Credo. This really was edge-of-the-seat, electrified singing!
Another accolade must go to Marcus Andrews (primo piano): his playing was highly supportive and thoroughly competent throughout. He was ably supported by Anthony Zerpa-Falcon (piano secondo) and Christopher Harris (harmonium). What a pleasant combination of keyboard instruments.
The soloists fared best in their concerted items, although there were some highpoints in their solos: soprano Alessandra Testai (O salutaris); mezzo-soprano Virginia Stone (Agnus Dei); tenor John Upperton (sustained phrasing in Domine deus); bass Michael Bundy (Quoniam).
Of course, none of this very considerable choral achievement would have occurred or, indeed, even have been possible without the drive and attention to musical detail from the musical director of Kent Chorus, Richard Jenkinson. Watching and listening to a performance, it is obvious how much of his enthusiasm spills into the ranks of his singers. Long may it continue!
Kent chorus are due to visit the Netherlands in early May, returning a visit made earlier by the Royal Dutch Orpheus Choir. On the strength of today’s performance, I feel certain that they will do our musical heritage of choral singing proud. Bravi!