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Before I dismissed the “Messe per Rossini” as just another Requiem,
I had to consider its history. The death of composer Gioachino
Rossini in 1868 unleashed a combination of emotions from his
admirers. In tribute to Rossini, composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
conceived a 13-part Requiem, with each of the first 12 parts
to be written by 12 different Italian composers. He assigned the
final section to himself. Verdi’s music publisher, Giulio Ricordi
(1840-1912), agreed to head a commission that monitored the
project. The premiere performance was originally scheduled for
the one-year anniversary of Rossini’s death.

Neither Verdi nor Ricordi could have predicted the problems that
arose while attempting to bring this work to fruition. These obstacles
included a difficult political climate, and a shift in musical tastes away
from Italian operatic conventions toward the “music dramas,”
popularized by Richard Wagner.

To make matters worse, after the completion of this massive
collaboration, it was difficult to find a venue with the proper acoustic
attributes. In addition, it was determined that the singers and
instrumentalists required to perform the piece had prior operatic
commitments. Verdi and Ricordi were informed that these
performers would be unable to simultaneously participate
in a concert of the “Messe per Rossini,” while also honoring their
operatic obligations. Add a few ego-bruising conflicts and recalcitrant
responses by local officials to this uncooperative “stew,” and the
doomed project was shelved and not premiered for 120 years!

In 1970, musicologist David Rosen unearthed this forgotten treasure.
He enlisted the assistance of conductor Helmuth Rilling, who spent
a considerable amount of time preparing the scores. Rilling then
conducted rehearsals with the Gächinger Kantorei, the Prague
Philharmonic Choir and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra,
in preparation for a 1988 premiere performance. That performance
was held during the European Music Festival in Stuttgart. A bonus
feature on the DVD provides a detailed discussion of this process.

Five soloists were engaged for this 1988 filmed concert, including
soprano Gabriela Beňačková-Čápová, mezzo-soprano Florence
Quivar, the late tenor, James Wagner, baritone Alexandru Agache,
and the late bass, Aage Haugland.

As noted above, “Messe per Rossini” is a combination of 13 separate
compositions, which are grouped into seven separate sections, from
“Introitus” to “Responsorium.” The first piece, “Requiem e Kyrie,” was
completed by Antonio Buzzolla (1815-1871). It begins with male
choral voices, gradually adding the entire choral ensemble.

Antonio Bazzini (1818-1897) composed the following “Dies Irae,”
another piece that uses the entire choral ensemble.

Carlo Pedrotti (1817-1893) contributed a “Tuba mirum” to this
project, consisting of a baritone solo with the chorus. This was
the first time I’d heard Romanian baritone Alexandru Agache, and
I was again amazed by another talented Eastern European singer
who is not  a “household name” in the United States.

Antonio Cagnoni (1828-1896) composed the “Quid sum miser” that
followed. This duet was sung by soprano Gabriela Beňačková-Čápová
and mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar. The harmonies of this piece
were very nice; however, the soprano voice tended to dominate
in passages that required her upper range. Having heard Mme. Quivar
perform “live,” I can personally attest to the power of her voice,
and wish that the sound mixing of this piece had been more equitable.

The “Recordare  Jesu,” by Federico Ricci (1809-1877) was the next
work performed. This wonderful quartet was sung by
Mmes. Beňačková-Čápová and Quivar, who were joined by baritone
Agache and bass Aage Haugland. Once again, the soprano
dominated in passages of an otherwise beautiful combination of voices.

Alessandro Nini (1805-1880) contributed the following “Ingemisco,” a
piece for tenor and chorus. This was my introduction to the talented
tenor, James Wagner. All I can say is, “Wow!” Sadly, my research
revealed that he died during 2003.

Bass Aage Haugland had a chance to shine during the next “Confutatis,
Oro supplex,” by Raimondo Boucheron (1800-1876). Haugland’s
impressive solo was accompanied by the chorus. He is also no longer
with us, having passed away in 2000. However, he leaves a wonderful
legacy of performances, including appearances with the Metropolitan
Opera.

Carlo Coccia (1782-1873) offered the following “Lacrimosa” and
“Amen.” These choral pieces featured beautiful a cappella singing.

The next four sections were “Domine Jesu,” middle and ending
“Quam olim Abrahae I and II,” along with “Hostias.” Gaetano
Gaspari (1808-1881) contributed these sections, performed by a
quartet of soprano, contralto, tenor, and bass soloists, with
the chorus.

Pieto Platania (1828-1907) composed the following Sanctus,
which consisted of “Hosannas I and II,” along with the middle
“Benedictus.” I must admit that Gabriela Beňačková-Čápová
has a glorious soprano voice. She was accompanied by the
chorus in these sections, and the combination was incredible.

Florence Quivar was given an opportunity to share the voice
I recalled, during her performance of the following “Agnus Dei,”
by Lauro Rossi (1810-1885). Although this part was written for
a contralto, Mme. Quivar’s lower range was more than adequate.

Teodulo Mabellini (1817-1897) wrote the next piece, a “Lux
aeterna.” This trio was performed by the tenor, baritone and bass.
It ends with the gentlemen singing a cappella, and was my
favorite performance on this DVD!

The final offering by Giuseppe Verdi begins and ends with a
“Libera Me,” encompassing the middle “Dies Irae,” and “Requiem
aeternam” sections. The floating soprano line is so beautiful that
I can understand why Verdi chose to also use it in his later “Requiem.”

The short intermission during this long work is an informative
interview of Maestro Rilling, by a female member of the chorus.
Although this is a long DVD, it places these stellar performances
within the necessary historical context, and you’ll be glad that
the wait of 120 years is over!

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