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Top-Heavy Rossini from the New Dominion Chorale

October 31, 2006
The Washington Post, 10/31/06:  Despite its title, Gioacchino Rossini's "Petite Messe Solennelle" is a lively and sweeping work -- as heartfelt as anything the composer ever wrote and (as Napoleon III supposedly remarked) neither little, solemn nor particularly liturgical. Lasting roughly 90 minutes, it's unmistakably Rossini, overflowing with tender arias, kinetic rhythms and achingly lyrical melodies -- more an opera, in some ways, than a work of religious devotion.

chorus_cathedral_390.jpgSo it was with real anticipation that a near-capacity audience filled Alexandria's Schlesinger Concert Hall on Sunday to hear Thomas Beveridge and the New Dominion Chorale perform the work. But anticipation gave way to concern as virtually the entire chorale -- more than 150 singers, by rough count -- filled the stage.

That's an enormous force to bear on what is, essentially, a piece of chamber music. Written for only 12 voices (accompanied by two pianos and the organ-like harmonium), the work gets its considerable power not from size but from intimacy. The soaring but delicate vocal lines, the subtle shadings, the detailed counterpoint -- all are on a distinctly human scale.

And, while Beveridge steered the proceedings with fervor and skill, the sheer weight of so many voices knocked the work out of balance and sapped much of its detail and grace. The four soloists held their ground admirably, but the organ and two pianos were often struggling to be heard; at times you had the impression of a gigantic singing caterpillar scurrying about on tiny piano legs.

Despite that, the performance was still very enjoyable. The talented bass Max Wittges, unfortunately, was under the weather and laid low, but soprano Fabiana Bravo, mezzo Laura Zuiderveen and tenor Issachah Savage produced thoughtful and well-turned performances.

Posted on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 09:54AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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