Puccini: Messa di Gloria (CD)

Warner Classics
Current Stock:
Roberto Alagna, Thomas Hampson, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Antonio Pappano

Unlike Verdi's Messa solenne, which actually is a 'Messa di Gloria' or Missa brevis, Puccini's youthful work is a full setting of the Ordinary of the Mass more than 45 minutes in duration.

Where Verdi looks across the Alps and dons the clothing of the Austro-German tradition, Puccini takes a different approach. He flexes his contrapuntal muscles in celebration of earlier Italian polyphony, yet the work's harmonic language at times predicts his later role as a genuine modernist. In addition, some of Puccini's oblique chord progressions recall Beethoven's modal archaisms in the Credo of the Missa solemnis, while Puccini's 'Cum sancto spiritu' strikingly echoes Beethoven's fugue on 'in gloria Dei Patris. Amen'. Rich and robust, if not yet fully integrated in style, the work has an attractive vigour and already evinces impressive orchestral assurance.

The piece merits a performance as good as this one. The London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra perform beautifully for Antonio Pappano, who achieves a naturally expressive ebb and flow without distorted exaggeration. The two starry soloists have less to do, with Thomas Hampson's contributions coming near the end. In the 'Gratias agimus', Roberto Alagna sounds clangorous and tight-throated in alt, though he settles down somewhat in the 'Et incarnatus'. Hampson is much more refined in the 'Benedictus' and they both blend effectively in the Agnus Dei (if not in a way that allows one to imagine them as Manrico and Luna in the conductor's forthcoming EMI recording of Il trovatore). Pappano is careful not to separate Puccini's mixed colours and the warm recorded sound helps him in this. The Preludio sinfonico and the touching Crisantemi form an appropriate frame for the Mass.

Pappano understands that the larger chrysanthemums of Puccini's string orchestra version require more restraint than the delicate blooms of the string quartet original. A very satisfying disc. - Stephen Pruslin, International Record Review

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


"In the Mass, Antonio Pappano easily outshines his rivals on disc, enhancing the operatic element in the score. He has ideal soloists in Alagna and Hampson, and the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra are in incandescent form. The couplings are welcome, aptly chosen and very well played.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Messa di Gloria

Preludio Sinfonico


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Early Puccini gives hints of what was to come, helped by Alagna, Hampson and Pappano.



Puccini's Messa di Gloria is anything but a glorious mess is this 2001 EMI recording (re-issued on Warner Classics) with Antonio Pappano and soloists Roberto Alagna and Thomas Hampson. The work was composed when young Puccini was still a student. It is not surprising he chose to make a setting of the Mass; he came from a long line of composers of church music in Lucca. There are clear signs of the later Puccini in the sweep of the musical climaxes. He was obviously already at home with choral writing, and an assured orchestrator.

This is equally apparent in his early orchestral work, the languid Preludio Sinfonico, written in 1876 and showing something of Massenet's influence. Frustratingly, Puccini wrote a second Preludio Sinfonico at the time which remains "in private hands and not available for performance or study", according to music editor and Puccini specialist Pietro Spada. The later Crisantemi, originally for string quartet but expanded for orchestral strings is firmly in the heart-on-sleeve style of the mature composer. Crisantemi is the Italian for chrysanthemums, a flower used in Italy for funerals and rites of remembrance.

Pappano conducts with the expected sensitivity and feeling for drama. Alagna is perhaps too operatically beefy in his brief solos––he does tend to emote! ––but Hampson is at his smooth best. A bass soloist is also designated in the score, but in this performance the solo is given to the choral basses. Lovers of Puccini's operas (and who isn't?) will find plenty to enjoy here. Excellent sound. (CD)