IMAGINE going to a Puccini opera, but discovering a Mass had been substituted at the last minute!
Last Saturday the New Elizabethan Singers performed just such a work, The Messa di Gloria of 1880, written by teenage Puccini as his graduation piece, and with more than a nod to Verdi. The young Italian used every trick in the musical book to showcase his emerging genius – dramatic changes in tempo, in dynamics; triplets set against duplets; florid solos (the tenor Alberto Sousa was on exceptional form); luscious harmonies that wrapped round us like a warm blanket on a freezing evening.
The choir was on top form – well drilled, attentive to conductor Matt Kingston, with clear enunciation and absolutely together, even on difficult and exposed entries.
By contrast Bruckner’s Te Deum of 1884 came across as a far more introspective work. Eschewing Italian flourishes, the music dutifully echoed the Te Deum prayer “We praise Thee, O Lord”. However, this did not make it an easy piece to sing. Very high top notes taxed the sopranos, and sliding chromatic sections meant that both choir and orchestra had to pitch their notes precisely.
Soloists Katharine Fuge and Emily Hicks blended their voices perfectly to produce an ethereal contrast to Ricardo Panela and Alberto Sousa’s anchoring in the lower range. The orchestra, under Alexandra Ennis, coped sturdily with a taxing score.
Four years apart in composition; aeons apart in style, these works are relatively little known to modern audiences. All credit to the Elizabethans for educating as well as entertaining us with such a stylish performance.
Review submitted by Bruce Upton