I tend to relish all releases of Cherubini scores and
this disc from the Phoenix Edition label is no exception. The
reissues of two scores performed by the period instrument
ensemble Cappella Coloniensis. Both were recorded in 1981
at Corvey Abbey, the Benedictine Monastery near Höxter
in Germany. I already have this performance of the Dirge
on the Death of Joseph Haydn
coupled with the Mass
for the Coronation of Charles X
(1825) on the Capriccio
label 10 614.
The Cappella Coloniensis was founded in 1954 by Cologne Radio who
were then known as Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk. Since their
foundation the WDR Cappella Coloniensis became a leading
orchestra in the field of historical performance practice.
All their recordings and appearances are on period instruments.
Immensely influential in his day the Florentine composer Luigi Cherubini
lived the majority of his life in France and for many years
he was an establishment figure in Paris. Under the restored
Bourbon Monarchy, Cherubini was created a Chevalier
of the Legion of Honour
, a member of the Institut
and appointed Surintendant de la musique
. In 1822 he was appointed Director of the Paris
Conservatoire holding the post for twenty years. I have
noticed that some research sources that contain biographical
details of Cherubini’s life can provide contradictory dates.
Given the relative neglect of Cherubini’s music in recent times it
is hard to imagine just how esteemed he was in his day,
being regarded in the same 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 for his prowess as a composer for the
stage, composing almost forty operas such as the successful: Lodoïska
(1797), Les deux journées
(1800) and Les Abencérages
As a strong advocate of Cherubini’s music I believe that the most
enduring section of his output is his often revelatory
sacred music. My experiences at Recorded Music Societies
have confirmed that Cherubini’s music is still rarely heard;
a figure virtually unknown to the mainstream listener.
Although a portion of Cherubini’s music has been released
on disc over the last twenty years or so, to assemble a
collection can be a difficult task. To assist the reader,
from my collection I have listed at the end of this review
a number of high quality Cherubini recordings, of mainly
sacred choral music, a few operas and some chamber music,
that can all be obtained with reasonable effort. However,
much of Cherubini’s output is not available on disc; a
substantial amount has probably not even been recorded.
I believe a Cherubini masterwork to be the Messa Solenne
No.2 in D minor
(1811, rev. 1822). There is, what was
for me, a revelatory recording of the score with Helmuth
Rilling conducting a wonderful team of soloists, the Gächinger
Kantorei Stuttgart, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart and the Stuttgarter
Kammerorchester from Germany in 1992 on Hänssler Classics.
Probably one of the top ten favourite scores in my entire
The first work on this Phoenix Edition disc is the Chant sur la
mort de Joseph Haydn
(Dirge on the Death of Joseph
a funeral cantata for three solo voices
and orchestra. In 1805 Cherubini had completed the score
in response to the incorrect news in a London magazine
circulated around Europe in 1804 that Haydn, then aged
in his seventies, had died. The French Masonic lodge
named The True Measure of Masonic Society
the score from Cherubini, a Freemason, to compose a funeral
cantata in memoriam of the death of Haydn, who was also
one of the Masonic brethren. For the Dirge on the
Death of Haydn
Cherubini set texts by Masonic author
Louis Guillemain de Saint-Victor. These are workaday
verses that pertain to a dying swan on the banks of the
River Danube. Imagine the embarrassment as Cherubini
had already circulated printed copies of the score before
the news arrived that Haydn had, in fact, not died. It
seems that the score was not performed until 1810.
The Chant sur la mort
sung to French texts is divided into
five sections commencing with a dignified orchestral introduction.
There is an undercurrent of unsettling foreboding provided
by the dark colouration of low strings and wind. The weight
and intensity of the orchestral textures increases at 5:50-6:19
cranking up further at 6:50-7:50. In the first Coryphaeus
the tenor Martyn Hill sings a lament Amans des nobles
and in the following Coryphaeus the second tenor
Paolo Barbacini conveys a distinct Italianate quality to
the aria A ses tendres accents
. The extremely brief
soprano aria Non ce feu createur
sung by Marilyn
Schmiege is followed by a trio L'un et l'autre est vainqueur
uplifting trio for soprano and two tenors could have come
straight from one of Cherubini’s operas. Glorious and impassioned
singing at 8:17-8:33 especially from Marilyn Schmiege.
The better known of the two scores on this re-issue is Cherubini’s Symphony
in D major
. The Symphony
formed part of a £200
commission from, the then, recently established Philharmonic
Society of London in 1815. Evidently the four movement D
was not a success when first performed
and the dissatisfied Cherubini subjected the work to
considerable revision; even arranging the greatly altered
score into his String Quartet No. 2 in C major
The Symphony in D major
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 Orchestra.
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
and undemanding the Symphony
is a reasonably appealing
work that rather lacks memorability but is certainly deserving
of being heard. The Phoenix Edition booklet notes provide
only sparse information on the Symphony in D major
I am familiar with three competing versions of the Symphony in
a) Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo conducted by Piero Bellugi.
The release was recorded in 2005 at the Casino di Sanremo in
Italy on Naxos 8.557908 (c/w overtures: Médée
- see review
b) Zürich Chamber Orchestra under Howard Griffiths from 1997 recorded
in Zürich, Switzerland on CPO 999 5212 (c/w overture Lodoïska
Giulio Sabino - Sinfonia
). This CPO release has the
benefit of clear and bright sound with interesting and
informative booklet notes.
c) 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
Domenico Cimarosa Overtures: Il matrimonio segreto
matrimonio per raggiro
). I experienced the fifty year
old mono sound quality, evidently digitally remastered,
as disappointing in the opening movement of the Symphony
reasonably acceptable in the other tracks. The concise
booklet notes leave the reader wanting more information.
Another version of the Symphony in D major
that is available
in the catalogues although not one that I am familiar with
is from Donato Renzetti conducting the Orchestra della
Toscana. The recording was made in 1987 on Arts Music Red
Line 47102-2 (c/w overtures: Médée
and Le crescendo
The opening movement of the Symphony in D major
is an Allegro
a brief Largo
introduction. The Cappella Coloniensis
under Gabriele Ferro provide a measured and reverential
opening. From 1:52 the mood changes to one of high spirits
with exhilarating playing from the Cologne players. 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.
In the second movement Larghetto cantabile
Gabriele Ferro directs
playing of compassion and sensitivity from the Cappella
Coloniensis. I could imagine in Ferro’s interpretation
a spirit of a wandering soul with a strong sense of solitude.
Charming and tender playing from maestro Bellugi in the Larghetto
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 Bellugi recording I could 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
movement Gabriele Ferro
and the Cappella Coloniensis with a brisk tempo provide
a fresh, almost blustery feel to their performance. This
is splendid playing although I would have preferred slightly
more vivacity. The Sanremo players under Piero Bellugi
provide a delightfully brisk and scampering performance.
There is a swaggering enthusiasm from maestro Toscanini
with playing of a Mendelssohnian character. A fine performance
from the Swiss Orchestra under Griffiths who provide an
interpretation of convincing mischievousness.
In the final movement marked Allegro assai
Ferro and his Cologne players perform with a remarkable
confidence, almost aristocratic in feel. Cherubini’s writing
at times reminded me of a cross between the nobility of
a late Haydn symphony and the surging energy of Beethoven’s Symphony
. Bellugi and his Italian Riviera orchestra offer
nimble playing of haste and vigour, interspersed with episodes
of considerable finesse. I especially enjoyed Bellugi’s
remarkably buoyant and exhilarating rendition of the closing
measures at 3:40-4:36. Maestro Toscanini directs urgent
and sturdy playing in this dramatic reading without over-cooking
the concluding bars. The vibrant and robust Zürich Chamber
players under Griffiths build up a fair head of steam for
an invigorating climax at 4:10-5:07.
I was impressed with this Phoenix version of the Symphony in D
. However, I consider that the finest recording
is from the Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo conducted
by Piero Bellugi on Naxos. Bellugi and his Sanremo Orchestra
provide a characterful performance of great spirit that
effortlessly engages the listener. Bellugi has given
much attention to his performance and together with a
good sound quality it becomes the first choice version.
At only 55 minutes the playing time on this Phoenix Edition disc is
not over-generous. It is a shame that some of Cherubini’s
short but significant orchestral works could not have been
included, such as the Marche funèbre
the Marche réligieuse
(1825). None of the soloists
or the conductor are featured in the Phoenix Edition booklet
notes, yet, bizarrely there is a full page feature on the
photographer of the front cover. The mainly disappointing
booklet also gives some information about a spurious flute
part on some nonexistent tracks. The sound quality is vividly
clear and well balanced.
Muti/Bavarian RSO and choir.
live at Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, Germany in 2003
on EMI Classics 5 57589 2.
Solenne in D minor
Muti/Bavarian RSO and choir
live at Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, Germany in 2001
on EMI Classics 5 57166 2.
is a special recommendation. Probably one of my top ten
favourite discs in my entire music collection
Solenne No.2 in D minor
Rilling/Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
and Stuttgarter Kammerorchester.
at Stadthalle Leonberg, Germany in 1992 on Hanssler Classic
98.981 (c/w Haydn Paukenmesse
Solemnis in E major
Muti/Bavarian RSO and choir
live at Philharmonie am Gasteig , Munich, Germany in 2006
on EMI Classics 0946 3 94316 2 5 (c/w 2 Motets).
Mass for the Coronation of Louis XV111
Muti/London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus.
at Watford Town Hall, England in 1988 on EMI CDC 7 49553
for the Coronation of Charles X
at Abbey Road Studios, London, England in 1984 on EMI CDC
7 49302 2 (c/w Marche religieuse
Gabriele Ferro/Cappella Coloniensis.
at Lindlar, Cologne, Germany in 1981 on Capriccio 10 614
(c/w Dirge on the death of Joseph Haydn
in C minor
mixed four-part choir and orchestra
Matthew Best/Corydon Orchestraand Singers.
at England in 1995 on Hyperion CDA66805 (c/w Marche
Riccardo Muti/Philharmonia Orchestra and Ambrosian Chorus.
at the Kingsway Hall, London in1980 on EMI Classics 5 86239
2 (c/w Verdi Messa da Requiem
in D Minor
male chorus and orchestra
Markevitch/Tshechischer Philharmonie and Sängerchor.
at Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic in 1962 on Deutsche
Grammophon 457 744-2 (c/w Mozart Coronation Mass
Leonard Bernstein/La Scala Orchestra, Milan with Maria
Callas, Gino Penno, Giuseppe Modesti and Maria Luisa Nache.
live in mono at La Scala, Milan in 1953 on EMI Classics
5 67909 2.
first choice Medea
- a thrilling Callas performance
with poor but listenable sound).
Nicolà Rescigno/Orchestra of the Civic Opera Company of
Dallas with Maria Callas, Jon Vickers and Teresa Berganza.
live at State Fair Music Hall, Dallas, USA in 1958 on Gala
GL 100.521. (My second choice Medea -
only, a great Callas performance but disappointing sound).
Tullio Serafin/La Scala Orchestra, Milan with Maria Callas,
Renato Scotto and Miriam Pirazzini.
recorded in 1957 on EMI 5 66435-2.
third choice Medea
- for aficionados only - a rather
subdued Callas with passable sound).
or The Water Carrier
Spering/Das Neue Orchester with Andreas Schmidt, Mireille
Delunsch and Olga Pasichnyk.
at Cologne, Germany in 2001 on Naïve/Opus 111 OP 30306.
Maag/Coro e Orchestra Sinfonica RAI di Milano with Margherita
Rinaldi, Francisco Ortiz and Jean Dupouy.
at Milan, Italy in 1975 on Arts Archives 43066-2.
String Quartets 1-6
at Schöngeising, Germany in 2004 on CPO 999 949-2.
Quintet in E minor
at Stuttgart, Germany in 1996-98 on CPO 777 187-2
(c/w Onslow String Quintets
Op. 19 and 51)