I am familiar with
Cherubiniís C minor setting of the Requiem
from the excellent Hyperion recording
by the Corydon Singers (CDA66805) but
I hadnít come across the D minor work
previously so I was curious to experience
it. It has been recorded previously
at least once, by Riccardo Muti for
EMI in the 1970s but I havenít heard
The C minor Requiem
was composed in 1816 and was scored
for four-part mixed choir and orchestra.
It made a big impression, attracting
praise from both Beethoven and Berlioz,
the latter no great fan of Cherubini.
When Cherubiniís pupil and friend, Adrien
Boieldieu, died in 1834 Cherubini was
keen that the C minor Requiem should
be performed at his friendís funeral
but the Archbishop of Paris refused
on the grounds that the scoring called
for womenís voices. As a direct result
of this snub Cherubini composed the
D minor Requiem in 1836, deliberately
excluding female voices. It was this
work that was performed at his own funeral,
in accordance with his wishes.
In his liner notes
Basil Deane compares the two Requiems
thus: "The first [the C minor]
is confident, coherent, objective, the
work of a composer in his prime, speaking
for all believers. The second, recorded
here, is the utterance of an old man,
pessimistic in outlook, disillusioned
but indomitable, determined to explore
until the end." I think thatís
a pretty fair judgement. Deane goes
on to suggest that the different colours
that result from the sole use of male
voices and the way in which Cherubini
mirrors this in his orchestration lend
added interest to the D minor score.
Iíd agree with that also. Unfortunately
I must also add that in my opinion the
musical material in the D minor is less
inspired and interesting overall than
that of the C minor.
One problem is that
Cherubini eschews the use of soloists.
He gets away with this in the earlier
score, partly because he employs there
a wider-ranging palette of vocal and
orchestral colours. The present work
is more austere and sombre and Iím afraid
that this rather shows the limitations
of Cherubiniís choral writing. I must
stress that this is a very personal
judgement with which other listeners
may disagree. Thereís no doubt that
the use of adult male singers does create
a distinctive sound but over a span
of more than 40 minutes eventually I
found myself longing to hear a soloist
(or a female voice!) There are some
dramatic moments, notably in the Dies
Irae, but much of the music is restrained
The members of the
Hradec Králové Male Chorus
do well and as a tenor myself I admired
the stamina of the first tenors who
are frequently sent up into the stratosphere
by Cherubini. Iím not sure how big the
choir is but the documentation implies
that most of the singers are fairly
young - though certainly not inexperienced.
It may be a combination of youth and
numbers but I felt that there wasnít
quite the depth of bass tone that Iíd
have liked to hear anchoring the performance.
The orchestra plays well under their
Principal Guest Conductor, Douglas Bostock.
Of course, Bostock is well known for
championing less familiar music and,
so far as I could judge without access
to a score, his direction here is thoughtful
and sympathetic. However, perhaps in
the last analysis the performance, though
undoubtedly well prepared, lacks the
last ounce of projection and fire in
its belly. Coming new to the score I
was not wholly convinced.
The recording of the
Missa Solenne Breve in
B Flat major is claimed as a world première.
Though originally scored for full orchestra,
the work has until recently only been
available in a version with organ accompaniment.
The orchestral score was reconstructed
from the autograph. In addition to the
usual sections of the Mass an extra
movement, ĎO Salutaris Hostiaí, composed
in the same year has been interpolated
after the Sanctus, in accordance with
a note in the autograph score of the
For the performance
of this Mass, which is scored for four-part
(presumably mixed) choir, the Hradec
Králové Male Chorus is
joined by the Boninfantes Boys Choir.
Iím afraid that this is a miscalculation.
The boys produce a rather piping sound,
for which I donít much care, and they
lack the amplitude and projection that
sopranos and adult altos of either sex
would have brought to the proceedings.
The recording was made
at the same sessions as the Requiem.
I am rather puzzled by the fact that
in the Mass the overall choral sound
is, by comparison, woolly. The only
explanation that I can think of is that
in the Mass the men were deliberately
holding back so as not to swamp the
boysí voices. I make this assumption
since the men sound absolutely fine
in the Requiem. As for the music itself,
it has some pleasant moments, such as
the charming, gentle little Kyrie but
overall it failed to make much impression
In summary, I was a
bit disappointed by this release. Iím
sorry that I canít welcome it more strongly.
Others may well find more in the music
than I did; I hope so. The performance
of the Requiem seems to be a good one
and admirers of Cherubiniís music will
certainly want to investigate this CD.