Rossini – Petite Messe Solennelle

Phoenix choir performed Rossini on 6 and 7 May 2023, but not one of his operas. Of course, Rossini is best known for his operas. We all know the William Tell overture and would recognise tunes from the Barber of Seville and many others. But from his late 30’s Rossini retired from opera and composed very little, mainly chamber music, until this final grand work.

The Petite Messe Solennelle was Rossini’s last major composition and he described it as “the last of his sins of old age”. There’s nothing little or solemn about the mass, and the choir enjoyed Rossini’s playful operatic style – the catchy melodies, lush harmonies and quirky rhythms for which he is renowned. There’s everything from bold fugues to lyrical arias for the four soloists.

But it is also a full latin mass and pays great respect to the familiar text. And in amongst the humour, Rossini finds some moments of true gravitas, not least the sublime Agnus Dei which gently finishes the performance.

Because they couldn’t decide whether its more opera or mass, Phoenix Choir are performed two concerts. The Wentworth Falls School of Arts gave the work a theatre setting and for a traditional church setting the choir has chose its old favourite, Hoskins Uniting Church in Lithgow.

Rossini wrote the work for piano and harmonium and that remained his favourite setting for the work even after he later, reluctantly, completed an orchestration. Harmoniums are a rare find these days, a small reed organ with pedals to pump the bellows and knee flaps to adjust the volume and a range of reed stops to vary the sound. Phoenix didn’t have a harmonium available but achieved the same effect with Margo Adelson skilfully mastering a keyboard with reed organ settings. That gave the work its quirky characteristic woodwind-ensemble style.

But the hero of the performance was Janette Norcott on the grand piano. Janette is well known to all of you as Phoenix Choir’s long-term accompanist as well as for her work supporting Eisteddfods and as a teacher. Rossini places big demands on the pianist as a solo performer and Janette is used all her virtuosity to highlight his zany rhythms. And, of course she also supported our four excellent professional soloists to bring the essential operatic quality to the music.

The choir had great fun with this work – what musical director Amy Moore called a “rollicking good sing” in her Blue Mountains Gazette interview.  But the music is also serious in its intent – it is after all a mass – and there are some beautiful tender moments, particularly the closing Agnus Dei.

We performed in Wentworth Falls on Saturday 6th May at 3pm and in Lithgow on Sunday 7th May at 3pm. 

Contact us

Click here for
tickets for our next concert

Join the Phoenix Choir

Mailing list for future concerts

Enquiries – 02 4700 9308

We rehearse on Tuesday evenings during the NSW school term from 7pm to 9:30pm at the Phillips Hall, Gardiner Crescent in Blackheath.

%d bloggers like this: