from the Wokingham Times, April 2004
AFTER performing Berlioz's gigantic Messe des Morts at Guildford Cathedral in November, Wokingham Choral Society returned closer to home for Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle - and no greater contrast could be imagined.
Rossini wrote the work in his old age for a private chapel, scoring it for 12 voices (including four soloists), two pianos and a harmonium.
It is full of surprises and a source of consternation to those who like to place their music into neat pigeon-holes.
And it's neither little - it lasts for more than an hour - nor solemn, except for brief passages and the final Agnus Dei, which was exquisitely sung by the chorus and soprano soloist Claire Ormshaw.
It is by turns quirky, catchy, operatic, martial and almost Gershwinesque. Rossinin himself wrote of the score: "Dear God, I was born for opera buffs, you know it well!"
Whatever his intent, he has left us with a unique work in the religious repertoire. The sensitivity of the chorus was evident in that, despite more than 100 voices, the accompanists were never lost.
The chirpy, accentuated piano parts contrasted remarkably with the drone-like tone of the harmonium.
The concert began with a rare opportunity to hear Brahm's Variations on a Theme by Haydn in its original version, played by the talented young pianists Simon Crawford-Philips and Philip Moore.
Conductor Aidan Oliver is to be congratulated in bringing such varied fare before us, and maintaining what we have come to expect from Wokingham Choral Society.
In truth, everyone in Berkshire who cares for classical music should see and support this society.