Rossini’s death just over 150 years ago caused a massive outpouring of grief and affection. Thousands flocked to his funeral. In this climate, Verdi suggested to Rossini’s publisher, Ricordi, that a Requiem be composed by Italy’s greatest composers, to be performed on his anniversary – a truly grand event, had it eventuated. Verdi and a dozen others wrote the music, but petty politics prevented a performance. The score gathered dust for over a century. (Verdi reworked his Libera me for his own Requiem.)

Messa per Rossini finally received its first performance in 1988 in Stuttgart under the direction of Helmuth Rilling, who also recorded it. Chailly’s recording is taken from live performances at La Scala in late 2017. There is plenty to admire in this newcomer, not least the unflagging energy that Chailly brings to the music, yet comparisons with Rilling are instructive.

La Scala’s dry acoustic give orchestra and chorus more immediacy than Rilling’s more resonant and slightly distant recording. This is particularly effective in the final apocalyptic Libera Me, but at other points Chailly’s chorus sounds a little rough against Rilling’s well-drilled singers. Amongst Chailly’s soloists, tenor Giorgio Berrugi stands out in Nini’s Ingemisco, but Rilling has the mellifluous Florence Quivar for Cagnoni’s Quid Sum Miser, and soprano Gabriela Benacková for Rilling is more focussed than María José Siri.

While the engineering of Rilling’s account may show signs of age, the German brings breadth to the more memorable movements, including Buzzolla’s Introit and Pedrotti’s Tuba Mirum, whereas Chailly is keen to emphasise the dire day of judgement with brisk tempi and sheer weight of sound. It is good to have an alternative view of this musical curio, but Rilling is ultimately more satisfying.

Composer: Verdi et al
Composition: Messa per Rossini 
Performer: Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Riccardo Chailly
Catalogue Number: Decca 4834084