Friday, October 12, 2012

Sunday Classics preview: The post-operatic Rossini


Tenor Dalmacio Gonzalez sings the "Cuius animam" from Rossini's Stabat Mater -- in an August 1981 Proms performance with the Philharmona Orchestra conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. (DG made a recording with the same forces as the Proms performance.)

by Ken

It's impossible to talk about the career of Gioachhino Rossini (1792-1868) without taking note of the fact that, though he lived almost another 40 years, he completed his last opera, William Tell, in 1829, at the age of 37. With his retirement from the stage he didn't stop composing, though -- though now, freed from the exigencies of opera-house work, he could decide what and when to compose (probably the most representative products of this period are the short instrumental and vocal pieces collected as his Sins of Old Age), and didn't show a lot of concern for unleashing these works on the public.

Among the "post-theatrical" compositions are Rossini's two major sacred works, the Stabat Mater (1831-1841) and the Petite Messe solenelle (1864-67). The highly unorthodox Mass clearly qualifies as a "late" work, whereas Rossini's setting of the medieval Latin poem Stabat mater dolorosa (The Sorrowful Mother Stood) was completed well before the composer's 50th birthday. For our purposes this week, however, it does give us one example of music that came from his pen following his retirement from the stage.

What we're hearing tonight is the famous tenor solo, "Cujus animam gementem" (which soars famously up to higher-than-high-C high D-flat). I don't think it's going out on a limb to suggest that not many composers would have heard music anything like what Rossini did for the "Cujus animam."

The Caruso and Bjoerling recordings were done as 78s, and so were almost certainly influenced by the 78-side recording limitation. Even so, I think it's fair to say that the Giulini-conducted performance in the video clip above is really broadly paced, even more so than the 1967 Rome Radio performance from which we hear Luciano Pavarotti singing the "Cujus animam" below. For comparison, we're also hearing the Decca studio recording Pavarotti made just a few years later with István Kertész.

ROSSINI: Stabat Mater: "Cujus animam gementem"
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,

now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed

was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,

she beneath beholds the pangs

of her dying glorious Son.
[English adaptation by Victorian poet-composer Edward Caswall]

Enrico Caruso, tenor; Victor Orchestra. Victor, recorded Dec. 15, 1913

Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; orchestra, Nils Grevillius, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 12, 1938

Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; RAI Symphony Orchestra, Rome, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. Live performance, Dec. 22, 1967

Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; London Symphony Orchestra, István Kertész, cond. Decca, recorded March 1971


We're actually going to be focusing on the other end of Rossini's creative career.

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