Tag Archives: Anderson

Weird and Wonderful Rossini

Oratorio Chorale
Unitarian Universalist Church
Brunswick
Mar. 3, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

Kudos to Emily Isaacson and the Oratorio Chorale for bringing to Maine one of the weirdest concoctions of the musical world—Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, written in 1863, after the composer had retired with honors from the opera world.

The original work, as heard on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick, is scored for two pianos, harmonium, chorus and voice quartet. As its name implies, it was intended for performance in a the composer’s salon (which must have been very large), rather than a church, and it is by no means petite, lasting over an hour and a half.

My own opinion is that “solenelle” refers to the lightness of content. It is a traditional Mass, if assembled somewhat strangely, but includes lovely arias that Rossini wished he had used in operas, some very popular, if not to say vulgar, tunes and a piano score straight out of the Monty Python skit in which the pianist wanders through every coda and key change known to man without coming to a conclusion. Satie was also to parody conventional conclusions, but much later in time. Rossini may have played the piano accompaniment himself, which would do something to explain the musical jokes.

The Mass begins with a technique that I have detested ever since I was five: taking a phrase from the liturgy and worrying it forever, like a dog with a bone, until one wonders if the repeats will ever end.

The totally insane but amusing piano part was mightily executed by Scott Wheatley and Tina Davis, while a reed organ, well played by Ray Cornils, substituted for the harmonium. The reed organ becomes the voice of reason.

After the Kyrie and he Gloria, Rossini inserts four musical forms unrelated to the Mass, although (somewhat) following the text: a Terzettino, a Bass solo, sung by the tenor, a Duetto and a Solo marche militaire sung by the baritone.

The duet, between soprano Deborah Selig and counter-tenor Reginald Mobley, made sense of the latter’s request of Isaacson to perform the Peite Messe. It is stunningly beautiful.

The chorus, in the second of two grueling performances on the same day, was in good form, but choral writing was not Rossini’s strong point. He concentrated on the soloists, alone and in combination and awarded them the highlights. Tenor Matt Anderson and baritone Paul Max Tipton sang beautifully but showman Rossini liked to give the best parts to his divas.

The score is strange all the way through, almost as if the composer were afraid of being taken too seriously. An unnecessary accompaniment to the passing of the offering plate makes the piano behave seriously. The Sanctus is deeply felt, especially the “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and the accompaniment is reasonable in a soprano rendition of a non-traditional text by Thomas Aquinas. The counter-tenor and chorus have the last word, in a profound Agnus Dei.

The Petite Messe is a one key to the mystery of Rossini’s retirement at a relatively early age. He felt that he had said all that he wanted in the form of popular opera, he had plenty of money,  why not quit while you’re ahead? HIs works after retirement he regarded as the sins of old age and were intended for friends and acquaintances. God forbid they should compete with his operatic legacy. Rossini was a gourmet, and he wanted to devote his remaining years to gastronomy. Hence Tournedos Rossini.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net

An Exciting POPS by the Midcoast Symphony

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Franco Center, Lewiston
Mar. 17, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra’s “Celebration Pops,” Saturday night at Lewiston’s Franco Center, was just that: popular.  It attracted the largest crowd I have seen at one of the Midcoast’s concerts.

In spite of being about 2 hours long, including intermission with crepes and wine, the pace never flagged, due to the infectious energy of guest conductor Yoichi Udagawa, who was just getting into his stride with a gloriously hokey encore of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” complete with a three-piccolo obligato and a flag-waving baseball cap. The Boston Pops couldn’t have done it better.

Udagawa has a penchant for fast tempos, which works better with some popular classics than with others. It made the orchestra struggle a bit with the Shostakovich Festive Overture, which opened he program, but was more effective in Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from “Rodeo,” and absolutely perfect with the jigs from Leroy Anderson’s “Irish Suite.”

Anderson has become a little too popular to be taken as seriously as he should be. HIs sensitive arrangement of well-known Irish tunes, however, was one of the high points of the evening.

We came to the event primarily to hear pianist Charles Floyd play “Rhapsody in Blue.” HIs interpretation of the Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2 with the Midcoast, a few years back, was unforgettable.

What happened was one of those irresistible force meets immovable object dilemmas, when Floyd’s long lines and exploration of inner voices came in contact with Udagawa’s up-tempo interpretation. A concerto is always a battle between orchestra and soloist, but this one ended in a truce that was satisfying to both parties, retaining the excitement of Gershwin’s improvisations while revealing some inner harmonies unheard in more technical performances.

I generally detest encores after concerto performances, as detracting from the main event, but Floyd’s deeply felt variations on “America” seemed appropriate. It made me think of the scene in “RIdley Walker,” when the hero comes across the ruins of Salisbury Cathedral and exclaims,”What we been…and what we are now.”

After conducting the audience in clapping for the “Colonel Bogey March,” Udagawa ended the regular program with a sultry and explosive Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delila,” that brought out the best from all sections of the orchestra.

I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s (Sunday’s) concert at the Orion Center is sold out, but if tickets are still available it would be well worth hearing.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.