ROTA Mysterium • Armando Renzi, cond; Angelica Tuccari (sop); Corinna Vozza, (mez); Gino Sinimberghi (ten); Ugo Trama (bs); O & Ch of the Pro Civitate Christiana di Assisi • LA BOTTEGA DISCANTICA 124, mono (70:32 Text and Translation)
It was purely a coincidence, I think, that I began listening to this CD on the day that the Vatican announced ‘Habemus Papam,’ and Pope Francis became the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic world. My understanding is that the complete titleRead more of Rota’s work is Mysterium Catholicum, but perhaps there were concerns that including the adjective would limit the disc’s potential audience. (I’m sure I’m not the only Gentile who listens to Bloch’s Sacred Service, however!) Rota composed this work in 1962 for the orchestra and chorus that perform it here, and this might be the premiere performance, although I don’t hear any applause or audience noises. The performance has its rough moments though, which suggests that I am correct anyway. As far as I know, this is its one and only recording. Royal S. Brown reviewed an earlier incarnation of it, on the Claves label, way back in Fanfare 17:4 in 1994.
Brown liked the music very much, and so do I. “Musically and dramatically,” he wrote, “the work’s style might be described as lying somewhere between Verdi and Shostakovich, with a bit of Carl Nielsen to boot. It all adds up to a surprisingly effective work that receives a solidly committed performance from all forces involved.” I don’t hear the Nielsen, but I do hear a lot of composers—the tonal ones, if you please—who came in between Verdi and Shostakovich; one might say that this Mysterium is not just Catholic but also catholic! I didn’t hear anything that reminded me of Rota’s film music, although there is a passage in the first and last parts that reminded me (briefly) of Bernard Herrmann’s main title for Psycho! There is an awful (and awe-ful) lot of Verdi’s Requiem here. As an Italian, and given this work’s ambitions, there was little likelihood that Rota could have avoided it. Even if he had tried to, it probably would have manifested itself subconsciously. Over the course of 70 minutes and seven parts, Rota gives us passionate belief and a little bit of joy (Part 6 is almost aerial—the soprano seems to have inhaled nitrous oxide), and quite a lot of awe over the power and mystery of God and His church. The libretto is scriptural, and also taken from early Christian writings and liturgical texts. It doesn’t tell a story as much as it leads the listener through a contemplation of Christian mysteries such as the incarnation; the opening text, from the Book of John, is “In the beginning was the Word.” Given the work’s variety, on many levels, it runs the risk of losing coherence, but its power really is cumulative, and it sweeps the listener along.
I also agree with Brown that the performance is solidly committed. It generally goes well, although there are moments of bad ensemble, and botched notes. Bass Ugo Trama, who is a narrator of sorts in Mysterium, is a stand-out among the soloists. I don’t care for the fruity sound of the boys’ choir; those who have listened to the Vatican’s choir will know what to expect. The biggest drawback is the recorded sound. Brown called it “very present” and wrote that “it works particularly well for this piece.” I haven’t heard the Claves release, but the sound here is shrill and pinched, when it is not actually distorted. It requires some patience, but the strength and interest of the music itself should be an ample reward.
Rota’s film music is attractive and justly famous. Rota’s concert music is no less attractive and is becoming more famous, but the words I would use to describe it, generally, are “expert” and “charming.” Mysterium is expert, and attractive, and it reveals a practically apocalyptic side to Nino Rota of which I was not previously aware. Strongly recommended, then, and not just to Rota’s admirers.
Angelica Tuccari (Soprano),
Corinna Vozza (Mezzo Soprano),
Gino Sinimberghi (Tenor),
Ugo Trama (Bass)
Pro Civitate Orchestra,
Pro Civitate Chorus