PUCCINI: Messa di Gloria / Preludio Sinfonico (Antonello Palombi/ Gunnar Lundberg/ Hungarian Operetta Orchestra/ Hungarian Radio Choir/ Pier Giorgio Morandi) (Naxos: 8.555304)
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Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Messa di Gloria Preludio Sinfonico Crisantemi
Giacomo Puccini, christened with the forenames Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria in 1858, inherited with these names the long musical traditions of his family. Resident in Lucca, the earlier Giacomo Puccini, born there in 1712, served as organist at San Martino and directed the Cappella Palatina until his death in 1781, when he was succeeded by his son Antonio, born in 1747, who had assisted his father also at San Martino and, like his father, was a member of the distinguished Bologna Accademia Filarmonica. His son Domenico, born in 1772, directed the Cappella di Camera from 1806, after the disbanding of the earlier Cappella Palatina by Napoleons sister, Elise Baciocchi, who became Regent of Lucca in 1805. Domenico Puccini died suddenly in 1815 and was outlived by his father, who died in 1832. Domenico Puccinis son Michele, born in 1813, was taught by his grandfather Antonio and served in Lucca as a teacher and later director at the Istituto Musicale Pacini and as organist at San Martino. It was his son Giacomo who brought much wider fame to the family.
Earlier generations of the Puccini family had been largely concerned with church music, although they had also composed movements for dramatic Tasche, composite choral and instrumental works to mark the biennial elections in Lucca. Domenico, while continuing the tradition of church music and Tasche, also turned his fuller attention to opera, a form attempted only briefly by his son Michele. Tradition suggested that Giacomo Puccini should follow family example in the restricted musical world of Lucca, but his ambitions were to turn into another direction, when he moved to Milan to pursue his operatic ambitions.
The position of organist at San Martino was generally regarded as the hereditary right of the Puccini family and in 1864, after his fathers death, it was decreed by the city fathers that Puccinis uncle Fortunato Magi, a pupil of Michele Puccini, should hold the position until Giacomo was old enough to assume it. His early studies were with Magi, before he found at the Istituto Musicale Pacini a more stimulating teacher in another of his fathers old pupils, Carlo Angeloni, who also inspired in his pupil an abiding interest in hunting and shooting. Puccini had been a chorister at San Martino and San Michele from the age of ten and began to undertake duties as an organist when he was fourteen. These last led him to write music for the organ, but it was a visit to Pisa in 1876 to attend a performance of Verdis Aida that finally changed the direction of his future career. In 1880 he completed his studies in Lucca, graduating with his Messa di Gloria. In the autumn of that year he began his three years of study at the Milan Conservatory.
In 1884 his opera Le Villi won some success, but it was with Manon Lescaut in 1893 that his reputation seemed finally established. This was followed by a succession of operas that retain their central part of Italian repertoire. His last opera, Turandot, in which he sought a new challenge, was unfinished at the time of his death in 1924, but enough had been written for the work to be completed by Franco Alfano and staged in 1926.
The Messa di Gloria of 1880, a work that marked the end of Puccinis apprenticeship in Lucca, was only brought to light again in the 1950s by an American priest, Father Dante del Fiorentino, during researches in Italy for a biography of the composer. The setting of the Mass makes use of a Motet and Credo written in 1878 for the feast of St Paulinus. The work is scored for tenor and baritone soloists and four-part mixed choir, with full orchestra. There is an instrumental introduction to the Kyrie, which prefigures something of what is to come. The Christe eleison has a more forceful opening, as voice after voice enters in ascending order, a tone or semitone apart, forming a dramatic climax, quietening for the return of the Kyrie.
The setting of the Gloria provides the most substantial portion of the work. There is a shift from the key of A flat major to a cheerful and lively C major, sopranos and altos answered by the tenors and basses, before all join together in jubilation. The words Et in terra pax bring a return to A flat major and relaxation of tension, mounting to a dynamic climax as trumpet calls introduce Laudamus te. At the words Adoramus te strings and woodwind accompany a gentler setting, leading to the colourfully harmonized D flat major operatic tenor solo, Gratias agimus tibi. The opening mood and key are restored at the words Gloria in excelsis Deo, with a gently lilting Domine Deus, rex clestis. The basses introduce the F major Qui tollis peccata mundi, a characteristically operatic section worthy of Verdi. Bassoons, horns, trombones and tuba lend strength to the solid C major setting of Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Puccini reserves his contrapuntal skill for the final Cum Sancto Spiritu, a fugue introduced by the basses, followed by the tenors, altos and sopranos, turning into what promises to be a double fugue, with a second subject derived from the opening. This gives way to homophonic writing, before the original fugue resumes in triumph.
The C minor Credo opens in unison, an emphatic statement of belief. The G major Et incarnatus, subdued as it must be, is entrusted to a tenor soloist, with the accompaniment of the voices of the choir only. The instruments return at the repetition of Ex Maria virgine and there is a darkening of mood for the G minor bass Crucifixus, with the sombre monotones of Passus et sepultus est, accompanied by a descending first violin line. The minor mode continues in the forceful imitative entries of Et resurrexit, moving from C minor to the key of A flat major for the homophonous writing of Et unam sanctam catholicam and the optimism of Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, heralded by trumpets. This is followed by the joyful C major of Et vitam venturi saeculi.
The tender G major Sanctus and strongly stated Pleni sunt cæli are followed by the E flat major baritone solo of the Benedictus, crowned by final choral Hosannas. The setting ends with a C major setting of the Agnus Dei, already familiar from its later operatic transformation as the madrigal in the second act of Manon Lescaut. This starts with a tenor solo, introducing a baritone solo passage, before the two soloists join together, in music that brings inevitable suggestions of Verdi.
Puccinis Preludio Sinfonico was written in 1876 and suggests the composers familiarity with the music of Wagner, while indicating something of his own developing musical language. Scored for a full orchestra and in the key of A major, it opens gently with the woodwind, echoed by the strings. The work moves gradually forward to a grand dynamic climax, followed by a tender conclusion, recalling the mood and thematic elements of the opening.
Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) was written in 1890 for string quartet, an elegy for Amedeo of Savoy, the Duke of Aosta. A brief work charged with emotional intensity, it served Puccini four years later to mark the pathos of Manons imprisonment and transportation in the opera Manon Lescaut.
Antonello Palombi made his début in 1990 as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, continuing his career in a wide repertoire ranging from Verdi and Puccini to Rossini and Mozart. In recent years he has concentrated on rôles best suited to his voice as a lyrical or lyrical spinto tenor. In 1997 he sang Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut at Glyndebourne under John Eliot Gardiner, and