music concerts by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
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Seen & Heard
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Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
1. Missa Solemnis in E [40:22]
2. Antifona sul canto fermo 8.tona [2:45]
3. Nemo gaudeat [7:28]
Ruth Ziesak (soprano) (1); Marianna
Pizzolato (mezzo) (1); Herbert Lippert (tenor) (1); Ildar Abdrazakov (bass) (1);
Barbara Fleckenstein (soprano) (2,3); Barbara
Müller (alto) (2,3); Andrew Meyer (tenor) (2,3); Bernhard Schneider (tenor) (2,3);
Christoph Hartkopf (bass) (2,3); Harald Feller (organ) (3); Max Hanft (organ)
Bayerischen Rundfunks/Peter Dijkstra
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (1)/Ricardo Muti
rec. live 22-23 June, 2006, Philharmonie am Gasteig Munich, Germany. DDD (1);
rec. 18-19 April, 2007, Herkulessaal der Residenz Munich, Germany. DDD (2,3)
Muti conducts a spirited and focused performance of Cherubini’s
Missa Solemnis in E with the forces of the Bavarian Radio Symphony
Orchestra and Choir and soloists. They are all well up to
the task. It’s a dramatic work; listen to the way the Kyrie
grows, and to the close of the Credo, for example. Like Verdi’s
output, Cherubini’s liturgical works have more than incidental
infusions of the rhetorical and the spectacular. This is
not surprising given Cherubini’s intentions to create a new
style of drama for his operas – a style rich in illusion
After Cherubini’s initial move from Italy to revolutionary
Paris in 1785, he wrote in a firmly French idiom just as
the French were eager for the Italian style. Then he moved
to Vienna, where the Viennese were warming to his French
style … Beethoven was a huge admirer of Cherubini, of course.
Not long before his return to the patronage of the restored
Bourbons in Paris – Cherubini was music master at Louis’ chapel – he
was commissioned by a church choir near the Château de Chimay
to write this Mass. This allowed Cherubini to return to and
nourish those musical worlds which he had inhabited as a
young man: worlds shot through with the fervour of Christianity.
Cherubini’s Mass makes few attempts to shake off the ceremonial
feel, rich with pomp and regal splendour, of some of his
predecessors’ settings in their day … Charpentier and Lully,
for instance. Cherubini certainly follows trends from the
previous hundred years which elevate musical line over vocal
and textual invention. There are even times when Cherubini
seems to have thought it necessary to remind listeners -
and players? - that this was a Mass; there is a marking in
the Benedictus, ‘religioso’.
Commentators have read the stunningly beautiful Agnus Dei
as perhaps even a personal plea for peace in turbulent times.
Be that as it may, this is a compelling work, full of genuine
interest and persuasively played. The singing is clean and
compelling, the playing of overall high quality with winds
and strings prominent and at times joined by enthusiastic
timpani – as in the Gloria, for example.
The soloists are fully aware of the subtleties of the dynamic,
the need to hold back and understate the moments of tension,
and even of crescendo – again towards the climax of the Gloria
- although the ‘Amen’ there is a little mechanical. This
accomplishment respects the required solemnity of the work.
The Missa Solemnis is a work of controlled dignity
written with conviction, albeit in a subdued sense. The success
of its performance depends less on the impact of individual
sections and subsections than on exposing its architectural
movement and strength holistically.
By and large Muti appreciates this; his pace, and the use
he makes of silence and contrast are effective. It is just
that at times - e.g. the under-recording of the male voices
from the choir throughout the long Credo - the finer points
of balance are lacking. This is especially so when the soloists
are obviously at such pains to elevate the experience. By
employing reserve and reflection, they should be adding to
the musical whole, rather than almost stealing undue attention.
The use of widely varying dynamics at this point in the piece
is otherwise appropriately compelling.
Given the personal circumstances of Cherubini at the time
he was writing the ‘Missa Solemnis’ - recovering, as he explained
to Haydn, from depression - and the wildness of the times,
it is likely that such music might reflect both hope and
restraint. One might equally hope that, without losing the
work’s dignity, Muti would aim for an approach just a little
more permissive and spontaneous than he does. It’s that spontaneity
that is often a decisive factor in the better Verdi interpretations.
What’s most important, though, is the extent to which the
performance completely avoids bombast and effect for bombast’s
and effect’s sake.
There is no real rival to consider – a Vanguard (44) recording
from 1971 is an ArkivMusic reissue. So this is definitely
a CD to be investigated if Classical period choral music
interests you. Comparisons will be made with Rossini’s ‘Stabat
Mater’, which Muti also conducts on EMI Classics 86552. The
liner-notes are adequate, if not ample; the text comes plainly
formatted in German, English and French as well as Latin.
This recording of the Missa Solemnis – and the
two gentle and memorable motets, Antifona sul canto and Nemo
gaudeat, that fill this still somewhat ungenerous CD – can
be safely recommended. But perhaps it should be treated more
as a way of coming to know the work. It is a definitive recording
which somehow reveals the music’s technique more than its
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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