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Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Requiem in D minor for Male Chorus and Orchestra (1836) [41í21"]
Missa Solenne Breve in B Flat major for Chorus and Orchestra* (1821) [19í21"]
Hradec Králové Male Chorus; *Boninfantes Boys Choir
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
Recorded in usti n.O., Czech Republic, 6-7 September 2003. DDD

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 that recording.

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 and reflective.

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 Mass itself.

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 on me.

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.

John Quinn

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