is good to have this new Naxos release of a symphony and three
opera overtures from the influential Florentine composer Luigi
Cherubini. My experiences at recorded music societies have confirmed
that Cherubini’s name is still relatively unknown, which is
surprising owing to the high quality of a great deal of his
the relative neglect of Cherubini in recent times it is hard
to imagine just how esteemed he was in his day, being regarded
in the same exalted league as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Mendelssohn.
In fact, Beethoven gave the well connected Cherubini the accolade
of ‘the greatest dramatic composer of his time’. At the height
of his popularity Cherubini was feted as a composer for the
stage, composing almost forty operas such as Lodoïska (1791),
Médée (Medea) (1797), Les deux
journées (1800) and Les Abencérages (1813).
a strong advocate of Cherubini I believe the most enduring section
of his output is his often revelatory sacred music. Although
a portion of Cherubini’s music has been released on disc over
the last twenty years or so, to assemble a collection is not
an easy task. To assist the reader, from my collection I have
listed at the end of this review a number of high quality Cherubini
recordings that can be obtained with reasonable effort.
feature work on this Naxos release is Cherubini’s Symphony
in D major. This formed part of a commission from the then
recently established Philharmonic Society of London in 1815.
The four movement score was championed in the 1950s by the renowned
Parma-born conductor Arturo Toscanini. Noted for his tireless
interest in rare repertoire Toscanini programmed the score for
two seasons with the NBC Symphony. Toscanini biographer John
W. Freeman described the work in 1987 as, “Mediterranean
in feeling, it is lighter than the Haydn and Mozart models
… more akin to Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’
Symphony.” Light and undemanding, it is a reasonably appealing
work that rather lacks memorability but is certainly deserving
of the occasional outing. Evidently it was not a success when
first performed and the dissatisfied Cherubini subjected it
to considerable revision; even arranging the greatly altered
score into his String Quartet No. 2 in C major (1829).
The revised version performed here is scored for flute, pairs
of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets with strings
the opening movement, an Allegro with a brief Largo
introduction, I was immediately struck by the brisk approach
adopted by Florentine conductor Piero Bellugi and his Sanremo
Symphony Orchestra. Not surprisingly the 1952 version from Toscanini
and the NBC SO on RCA is taken at an even faster clip. On the
CPO label English conductor Howard Griffiths and his Zürich
players in the opening Allegro provide a sense of restraint
to their playing that required a touch more vigour.
and tender playing from maestro Bellugi in the Larghetto
cantabile movement that contains an element of nobility.
Superb performances from the various solo Sanremo woodwinds
that are heard to great effect at 1:14-1:35 and 4:11-5:25. In
the recording one can detect an obtrusive thud at 4:14 (track
2). Characteristically Toscanini does not linger in the slow
movement, by contrast Griffiths and his Zürich players seem
over-cautious with an air of detachment. In the Scherzo-like
Menuetto movement the Sanremo players provide a delightfully
brisk and scampering performance. There is a swaggering enthusiasm
from maestro Toscanini with playing of a Mendelssohnian character
and a fine performance from the Swiss Orchestra under Griffiths
who provide an interpretation of convincing mischievousness.
the superior final movement marked Allegro assai maestro
Bellugi orchestra offer nimble playing of haste and vigour,
interspersed with episodes of considerable finesse. I especially
enjoyed Bellugi’s remarkably buoyant and exhilarating closing
measures at 3:40-4:36. Toscanini gives an urgent and sturdy
reading in his dramatic reading without over-cooking the concluding
bars. The vibrant and robust Zürich Chamber players build up
a fair head of steam for an invigorating climax at 4:10-5:07.
versions of the Symphony in D major mentioned above and
also the ones most likely to be encountered are:
Zürich Chamber Orchestra under Howard Griffiths from 1997 recorded
in Zürich, Switzerland on CPO 999 5212 (c/w overture Lodoïska
and Il Giulio Sabino - Sinfonia). This CPO release has
the benefit of clear and bright sound with interesting and informative
The recording of the NBC broadcast from Carnegie Hall, New York
in 1952 from Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra
on RCA Victor Red Seal 60278-2 RG (c/w Cherubini overtures:
Ali-Baba, Anacreon and Médée and Domenico
Cimarosa Overtures: Il matrimonio segreto and Il matrimonio
per raggiro). The fifty year old mono sound quality, evidently
digitally remastered, is disappointing in the opening movement
of the Symphony but reasonably acceptable in the other
tracks. The concise booklet notes leave the reader wanting more
Orchestra della Toscana under Donato Renzetti on Arts Music
Red Line 47102-2 (c/w overtures: Médée, Ifigenia in
Aulide and Le crescendo). This 1987 recording from
Donato Renzetti is not a version that I am familiar with.
accompany this recording of the Symphony in D major Naxos
has included the opera overtures: Lodoïska (1791), Médée
(Medea) (1797) and Faniska (1806). For
some years, from the turn of the eighteenth century, it was
fashionable to include popular Cherubini overtures in concert
programmes. Although for many years Cherubini was based in Paris,
successfully producing many of his operas there, I note that
the three overtures selected here are all from operas that were
staged in Vienna. In these attractive pieces Bellugi provides
characterful and effortlessly engaging performances of great
only fifty-six minutes the playing time on this Naxos disc is
not over-generous. Cherubini’s short but significant orchestral
works: the Marche funebre (1820) and the Marche
réligieuse (1825) could have been included or perhaps even
the substantial Dirge on the death of Joseph Haydn for
three solo voices and orchestra (1805).
Naxos engineers have provided a clear and well balanced sound
quality with decent enough annotation that provides all the
basic information. Much attention has been lavished on this
performance of Cherubini’s Symphony in D major and it
becomes my first choice version.
Recommended Cherubini Recordings:
Mass ‘Di Chimay’ (1809)
Riccardo Muti/Bavarian RSO.
Recorded live at Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, Germany
in 2003 on EMI Classics 5 57589 2.
Messa Solenne in D minor (1811)
Riccardo Muti/Bavarian RSO.
Recorded live at Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, Germany
in 2001 on EMI Classics 5 57166 2.
Messa Solenne No.2 in D minor (1811, rev. 1822)
Helmuth Rilling/Stuttgarter Kammerorchester.
Recorded at Stadthalle Leonberg, Germany in 1992 on Hänssler
Classic 98.981 (c/w Haydn Paukenmesse).
Solemn Mass for the Coronation of Louis XV111 (1819)
Riccardo Muti/London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Recorded at Watford Town Hall, England in 1988 on EMI CDC 7
Mass for the Coronation of Charles X (1825)
a) Riccardo Muti/Philharmonia.
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, England in 1984 on EMI
CDC 7 49302 2 (c/w Marche réligieuse).
b) Gabriele Ferro/Cappella Coloniensis.
Recorded at Lindlar, Cologne, Germany in 1981 on Capriccio 10
614 (c/w Dirge on the death of Joseph Haydn)
Requiem in C minor (1816)
Matthew Best/Corydon Orchestra.
Recorded at England in 1995 on Hyperion CDA66805 (c/w Marche
Requiem for male voices in D Minor (1836)
Igor Markevitch/Tshechischer Philharmonie.
Recorded at Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic in 1962 on Deutsche
Grammophon 457 744-2 (c/w Mozart Coronation Mass, K.317).
Medea (Médée) (1797)
a) Leonard Bernstein/La Scala Orchestra, Milan with Maria Callas,
Gino Penno, Giuseppe Modesti and Maria Luisa Nache.
Recorded live in mono at La Scala, Milan in 1953 on EMI Classics
5 67909 2.
(My first choice Medea - a thrilling Callas performance
with poor but listenable sound).
b) Nicolà Rescigno/Orchestra of the Civic Opera Company of Dallas
with Maria Callas, Jon Vickers and Teresa Berganza.
Recorded live at State Fair Music Hall, Dallas, USA in 1958
on Gala GL 100.521. (My second choice Medea - for aficionados
only, a great Callas performance but disappointing sound).
c) Tullio Serafin/La Scala Orchestra, Milan with Maria Callas,
Renato Scotto and Miriam Pirazzini.
Studio recorded in 1957 on EMI 5 66435-2.
(My third choice Medea - for aficionados only - a rather
subdued Callas with passable sound).
Les deux journées (The Two Days, or
The Water Carrier) (1800)
Christoph Spering/Das Neue Orchester with Andreas Schmidt, Mireille
Delunsch and Olga Pasichnyk.
Recorded at Cologne, Germany in 2001 on Naïve/Opus 111 OP 30306.
Les Abencérages (1813)
Peter Maag/Coro e Orchestra Sinfonica RAI di
Milano with Margherita Rinaldi, Francisco Ortiz and Jean Dupouy.
Recorded at Milan, Italy in 1975 on Arts Archives
Compete String Quartets 1-6
Recorded at Schöngeising, Germany
in 2004 on CPO 999 949-2.
String Quintet in E minor (1837)
Recorded at Stuttgart, Germany in 1996-98 on CPO 777 187-2 (c/w Onslow String Quintets
Op. 19 and 51).