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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) (3)
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)
EMI CLASSICS 3943162 [50:53]

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 and stagecraft.
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 soul.
Mark Sealey


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