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Pure, refreshing and simply magical

Louis Sharpe conducting the National Capital Orchestra, Canberra Choral Society and soloists. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Petite Messe Solennelle”, National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society. At Llewellyn Hall, June 25. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA.

THE concert of the National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society, featured soprano Saralouise Owens; alto Sonia Anfiloff; tenor Ryan O’Donnell and baritone Hayden Barrington in a beautiful presentation of Gioachino Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle”.

Written in Rossini’s twilight years, the composer described the piece as “the last of my sins of old age” in which he combines beautiful music with his renowned sense of comic irony.

Despite the title, there is nothing petite or solemn about this piece. The first Messe (Mass) opens with a dark, ominous sounding ostinato in the bassoon, cello and bass lines and sets up the scene for the chorus. This was played with a sense of atmospheric conviction that conveyed a nice contrast to the development of the harmony that later transitions into a major key.

The soloists sung with confidence and tender emotion which contributed to the overall grandeur and spirited nature of the performance. It was a pleasant and sonorous opening to the concert. “Gloria” began with a powerful and majestic fanfare.

This energy was maintained throughout the next movements that made the performance exciting to listen to. The lower brass added some healthy bottom-end sustenance to the sound as the woodwind and strings playfully interjected with moments of graceful melodic flourishes.

Chorus members and brass. Photo: Peter Hislop.

It is perhaps a little strange that Rossini did not write this movement for the end of the Messe, as its majestic nature implies some sense of finality and resolution. One may put this down to the composer’s irrefutable use of irony in his music. Whichever the case, this was by far one of the most exciting movements performed during the concert.

The “Credo” section was greatly amplified by the unity of the chorus and brass which added a nuanced depth and sprightliness to the overall performance. Although the softer sections from the strings were shy and timid to begin with, it picked up with the entry of the resplendent solo voices, which were soon accompanied by the woodwind, violins and chorus.

The “Offertoire” played by solo organ served as a welcome reprieve from the intensity of the surrounding movements. It was performed tenderly and with elegance.

The final movements of the Messe – the “Sanctus”, “O salutaris hostia” and the “Agnus Dei” – were sung with haunting charm and beauty by the chorus and the soloists. There was something about the sound that was, in its essence, so pure and refreshing. It was simply magical.

Judging by the sustained and rapturous applause, the concert was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.

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