DONIZETTI & MAYR Messa di Gloria and Credo
After hearing Rossini’s Stabat mater, the French writer Théophile Gautier remarked, approvingly, that Italian church music was ‘toujours en fête’. It’s party time with a vengeance in the Messa di Gloria concocted by conductor Franz Hauk from assorted individual movements by the young Donizetti. There are moments of impressive solemnity, both in the Messa di Gloria (ie Kyrie and Gloria) and the Credo in D, reworked from an earlier Credo in E flat for a performance in Donizetti’s home town of Bergamo. But from the tootling, clarinet-led march that launches the ‘Christe eleison’, the Ordinary becomes a pretext for a vocal-instrumental concert. The first clarinet (unnamed here) has a starring role both in the soprano aria ‘Laudamus te’ and the ‘Domine Deus’, an operatic-style cavatina-cabaletta for baritone. Horn and soprano duet amiably in the ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’, while in the ‘Qui sedes’ a solo violin swoops and skitters above the tenor. Even when Donizetti embarks on a fugue, as in ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, operatic jollity is never far away. Haydn’s late Masses and Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle seem positively austere by comparison.
With a thin dividing line between hedonistic exuberance and vapidity, this composite Mass – agreeably completed with movements by Donizetti’s mentor Simon Mayr – needs committed advocacy, plus a fair dose of Italianate panache. On the whole it gets it here. Franz Hauk obviously believes in the music and draws finely shaped and, where apt, full-bloodedly theatrical playing from his Bavarian forces. There is outstanding work from solo clarinet, horn and violin, and the woodwind choir carol delightfully in Mayr’s pastoral Benedictus. The soloists all have pleasing voices and blend well in ensemble, though only the Norwegian soprano Siri Karoline Thornhill has the bel canto finesse this music ideally requires. Her exquisitely poised singing of the ‘Qui tollis’, the wide intervals cleanly and gracefully taken, is a highlight of the whole performance. Less satisfying is the contribution of the chorus, sometimes rather raw-toned, often underpowered – though in mitigation they are balanced too far back in relation to the orchestra. Despite these niggles, those with a taste for bel canto opera-by-other-means can confidently investigate some enjoyable neglected music and savour some alluring playing and solo soprano singing en route.