Did the Four Greatest Singers on Earth Peform Rossini?

Antony Fellows reviews Hogarth Singers' latest concert

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In 1863 the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini wrote his last work – the Petite Messe Solonelle. And what a work it is.

As Tom Lydon, the new musical director of the Hogarth Singers said before the performance last week (Sat March 9) the composer had been suffering from mental problems, he was 76, he was staring into abyss and he needed to make peace with his Maker.

The man who wrote 39 operas, including the Barber of Seville and Cenerentola, had more or less retired after the success of William Tell in 1829 and dedicated his life to the pursuit of pleasure – primarily eating and cooking. His most famous culinary creation was the rich, multi-layered concoction of beef, foie gras and truffles, the Tournedos Rossini, and there is something of its extravagant mix of ingredients, in the Petite Messe Solonelle.

It’s a challenge. It veers from passages of deep religiosity to moments when it sounds like a jolly romp - almost as if the composer can’t quite bring himself to repent his sins. That makes it a difficult work to master. It has been said that all that is required for the Petite Messe is a small hall, a piano, a harmonium, eight choristers and the four greatest singers on Earth and it can be said that the Hogarth Singers – 48 of them - rose to the challenge with their performance at St Michaels and All Angels church in Chiswick. The fugues flew along; the entries were hit with sound timing and confidence. The light, the fantastic and the fabulous were sung with brio and sensitivity.

As for the four greatest singers on Earth? Well, that’s a big ask but the soloists were spectacular. Each one - soprano Suzanne Shakespeare, the bravura mezzo-soprano Joanna Gamble, tenor Paul Robinson, a regular performer with the choir, and the powerful bass of Michael Parle – brought clarity and feeling to their parts.

The choir’s pianist Andrew Wells was his usual authoritative self, even if he had to work twice as hard as usual – the original was meant for two pianos!

And then there was the harmonium, a first for the Hogarth Singers. Riccardo Bonci captured Rossini’s eccentricity perfectly. Someone in the audience- insensitive soul - said Rossini’s harmonium blasts sounded as if a gondolier was about to emerge from the pews clutching a cornetto ice cream but the solo, Preludio Reilgioso, combined pathos with pleading. For that alone Rossini should have earned his place in paradise.

Antony Fellows

The next Hogarth concert on June 29 will be contemporary American choral music including Gershwin, Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre. First rehearsal on April 22.

See www.hogarth.org.


March 12, 2013

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