The aging Rossini mass

The concert church at Nørrebro in Copenhagen was the setting for a distinctive concert

Peter Dürrfeld (Kristeligt Dagblad, 28 March, 2017)

4 stars

The immensely productive Gioachino Rossini had composed 39 operas throughout the first 38 years of his life, but at the other half of his life (he reached age 76) he mostly put his composition notepaper away, in order to indulge in other joys, including gastronomy.

Nonetheless there were exceptions – most notably perhaps the so-called ”Petite Messe Solennelle” which he created in 1863, if not for house needs, then for salon needs. This is the explanation for why the 75-minute work has also gained the somewhat derogatory nickname “Salon-mass”.

Last Saturday, the ensemble Copenhagen Soloists chose to perform the mass with merely nine singers: Sopranos Anna Forsebo and Radmilla Rajic, altos Nana Bugge Rasmussen, Johanne Thisted Højlund and Simone Rønn, tenors Adam Riis and Emil Lykke as well as basses bases Staffan Liljas and Piet Larsen.

They were not only assigned solos, but also choruses, so it was a busy afternoon for the dedicated singers, led by their equally dedicated conductor, Jonathan Ofir. The marvelous pianist Christina Bjørkøe played a considerably more substantial role than Gilbert Martinez on the little harmonium (“living room - organ”).

Her long solo piece in the second part, which Rossini had dubbed “Preludio Religioso”, was, for my ears, the most religious, within a mass which otherwise carried the sense of the experienced opera composer’s means of expression. Thus, the opening “Kyrie Eleison” sounded lulling, as if it could have been incorporated as a barcarole in one of Rossini’s big opera successes from the period in which the whole of Europe hailed him as the period’s greatest opera composer as well as an Italian Mozart.

Although Copenhagen Soloists’ performance was not completely absent of a few small blemishes, it was a rewarding experience to experience the rarely performed work in the midst of the capital’s old working-class quarter. Blågårds Plads has, with its location in the midst of the Big Square, had a tumultuous history, right from the time in the 1800’s when the residents protested against haing the square “vandalized” by new multi-story buildings.

Blågårds kirke (church), which was constructed in the middle of the 1920’s, was closed down on the 1st of January 2014 with a service attended by the Copenhagen Bishop, Peter Skov-Jakobsen. The building was sold for cultural usage and received the name Koncertkirken.

Only in the course of March this year it has hosted International Women’s Day, Tango Passion, several Jazz concerts, Vivaldi’s evergreen “The Four Seasons” – and now also a rare bird, created by the master, whom in his Italian native town is still called the Swan of Pesaro. In the score he wrote these words: “My Lord, it is completed, this little mass. Have I just composed religious music – or perhaps sacrilegious music?"

The question, 254 years later, seems impossible to answer definitely.