Review: Rossini’s Little Gem

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The Société philharmonique du nouveau monde performed Gioacchino Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle on April 27. While the Société chose the original version scored for two pianos and harmonium, the vocal parts in this production were sung entirely by the 150 choristers (instead of four soloists and eight choristers). The pianos were played by Danielle Maisonneuve and Jenna Richards, and the harmonium by Mélanie Barney. Michel Brousseau conducted from memory, which is not surprising given his leadership of the choristers’ rigorous rehearsal series. The chorus was evidently very well-prepared and well-responsive to Brousseau’s direction.

In the heart of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough of Montreal, the St-Jean-Baptiste Church was the ideal venue, both atmospherically and acoustically. The women provided great dynamics; their crescendi made beautiful “ripples” of sound in the church. One particular letdown was the lack of dynamics in the Quoniam, the men’s solo, sung mostly forte throughout. Also, with the harmonium placed behind the pianos, it often seemed to be drowned out in many of the tutti passages.

The last four sections of the Mass were sublime in every way, starting with the Preludio religioso soloed by Maisonneuve, then the Sanctus by the chorus accompanied by Barney. Next, the sopranos sung a delicate O salutaris hostia accompanied by both pianos. The finale, Agnus Dei, involving everyone, was the most breathtaking piece of the evening. Here the men finally, though briefly, sang pianissimo.

In contrast to the large orchestra in the Société’s last run of performances of Mozart’s Requiem Mass, the simplicity of the chosen orchestration of this Petite messe solennelle was most effective because it rightfully put the chorus in the spotlight. This is another performance that proves the old adage, “less is more.”

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