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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Elegiac Song Op 118 [5:40]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Requiem in C Minor (1816); Introit and Kyrie [7:26]; Graduale [1:12]; Sequence: Dies Irae [7:49]; Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe [5:54]; Offertory: Hostias [6:43]; Sanctus and Benedictus [1:13]; Pie Jesu [3:20]; Agnus Dei [5:22]
March Funèbre (1820) [5:14]
Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
rec. Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, 7-8 May 2006. DDD
TELARC CD-80658 [47:38] 


Telarc are to be congratulated for reviving this historically and musically important requiem, as well as for their very good recording. The Requiem was commissioned for the memorial service for King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. It was also performed at Beethoven's memorial service. The work is said to have been held in very considerable esteem by not only Beethoven - a pupil of Cherubini - but also Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Berlioz and Wagner. It was very successful and popular until the end of the nineteenth century, when it fell into unexplained obscurity.

It is in fact the first of two Requiems Cherubini composed, the latter - in D minor - being without women's voices - hence preferable to certain ecclesiastical factions - and being performed at Cherubini's own funeral. Unlike the other principal classical requiems, there are no vocal soloists, the singing being solely choral. This contrasts with the composer's earlier work which was almost entirely for the opera house. It comes from the second period of his compositional output, given mainly to church music and leading up to his appointment to the Paris Conservatoire in 1824. 

The work has a gentle and dignified opening, with high strings accompanying high voices, developing gradually through the lux perpetua, which is repeated before and after a simple kyrie, to the inevitably sterner 'Dies Irae', which is announced by a stroke on the dramatic tam-tam (low gong). The weight of the requiem is to be found in this and in the following two offertory sections, which become uplifting in mood and responsorial in style: male and female voices answer each other as the music expands into an extended fugue which connects into the Hostias. This is initially gentle and lyrical, reminiscent of the opening section, before picking up its pace in a tutti closing sequence.

The shorter Sanctus and Benedictus, which is clear, straightforward and positive, then flows into the plaintive Pie Jesus without any break, to balance the longer preceding  sections.  The concluding Agnus Dei is introduced with almost a flourish, and whilst this piece could not be accused of being 'opera in church vestments', there is a reminder here that its composer also wrote extensively for that medium. Its ending is innovative, particularly for its time; it dwindles gradually to almost nothing, as if the music itself is breathing its last. 

The scene is set on the disc with Beethoven's unusual miniature gem, the 'Elegiac Song', written to commemorate a friend's wife who had died in childbirth. It is performed here by small chorus and string orchestra, without double basses.

The disc closes with a 'March Funèbre', also by Cherubini and written four years after the Requiem, in 1820. This opens with the sounding of a gong - which is used repeatedly - and is dramatic in its effects, again showing its theatrical pedigree. It is more extroverted music than the Requiem and ceremonial in its nature.

Martin Pearlman is the founder, director and conductor of Boston Baroque, the first permanent baroque orchestra of North America. This ensemble is resident at the University of Boston and is linked to its Historical Performance Programme. It has made a number of acclaimed recordings, including the Brandenburg Concertos 2CD-80412, Mozart's Requiem CD-80410, Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers CD-80453, and Handel's Messiah 2CD 80322/80348, all on Telarc. Further information is available on the Boston Baroque website.

Julie Williams



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