Classical review: May 18

> Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle. Orchestra and Choir, National Academy of Santa Cecilia and soloists. EMI 2 CDs

Rossini's solemn mass is by no means little, as ''petite'' implies; it runs for more than 83 minutes over two discs. Nor is it too solemn, with some memorable tunes and much rhythmic vitality. 

While the composer is better known for popular operas, many could well argue that this is one of his finest works. Part mass, part cantata, it was first written for 12 voices, two pianos and harmonium.

Conductor Antonio Pappano likes to produce big sound and uses here Rossini's later orchestrated version, with four fine soloists (soprano Marina Rebeka, contralto Sara Mingardo, tenor Francescoe Meli and bass Alex Esposito), the famed Roman orchestra and chorus, with pipe organ.

Recorded in the orchestra's acoustically admirable home in Rome, this is an often beautiful and elegant work written in 1863, the composer's last substantial creation after stopping writing his operas. The music ranges from hushed intensity to boisterous high spirits.

Rossini could not resist some of his trademarks in this period of writing smaller pieces (''pechees de vieillesse,'' he called it, or sins of old age), even while contemplating his own mortality with this religious but lively sort of requiem.

The soloists are young singers making their names in famous opera houses and their voices blend well, with the soprano in particularly good form. The choir is splendid throughout this masterpiece, as it was in a recent release of Rossini's Stabat Mater by Pappano and his academy. The orchestra has properly been rated as one of the world's leading ones.

Verdict: Heart-and-soul performance of a refreshing Rossini major creation.

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