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Luigi CHERUBINI (1760–1842)
Requiem in C minor (1816)
Schola Gregoriana Tübingen/Wilfried Rombach (tr. 4 Tractus only)
Kammerchor Stuttgart; Hofkapelle Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. 13-15 May 2010, Evangelischen Kirche, Reutlingen-Gönningen, Germany. DDD
English translations of text and essay provided.
Hybrid SACD: plays on all SACD and CD players.
CARUS 83.227 [42:12]

Experience Classicsonline

Born in Ludwigshafen, Germany the conductor Frieder Bernius founded both the Stuttgart vocal and instrumental ensembles featured on this Carus release. The Kammerchor Stuttgart was founded in 1968 and more recently the period instrument ensemble Hofkapelle Stuttgart in 2006. For many years Bernius has been prolific in the recording studio, specialising in sacred choral works. A couple of years ago I reviewed the twelve volume set of Mendelssohn’s Complete Sacred Choral Music that Frieder Bernius had recorded for Carus. With that impressive Mendelssohn survey Bernius proved himself a remarkable conductor in the field of sacred choral works of the classical era.

Cherubini, although Italian-born, spent the majority of his career in Paris. There he wrote a large number of operas mainly in the Neapolitan style but they soon began to seem out of step with the Parisian craze for Italian grand opera. Consequently Cherubini withdrew from composing for a while. From being a virtually forgotten figure Cherubini’s star began to shine after the Bourbon restoration to the French throne and in 1816 he was appointed as Surintendant de la musique for the Royal family. Cherubini became arguably the most influential man in French music with his appointment as director of the Paris Conservatoire in 1822; a post he held until his death twenty years later.

In 1809 Cherubini had been buoyed by the success of his Mass in F which was an unexpected commission by the Prince of Chimay. Cherubini commenced composing a significant amount of sacred choral works including a large number of motets; several masses and two remarkable requiems. The earlier of the two is a Requiem in C minor for mixed chorus; completed in 1816. A second Requiem in D minor for male voices was written in 1836 with the intention of being performed at Cherubini’s own funeral.

This Carus release is a 2010 recording of the Requiem in C minor for SATB chorus, orchestra and basso continuo. The score was composed in 1816 for a memorial service for the former king of France, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette; who had both been executed in 1793 during the French Revolution.

The Abbey Church of Saint Denis was the established resting place of the kings of France for several centuries. During the Revolution the royal tombs in Saint Denis suffered considerable desecration. In 1815 the partial remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were recovered from a public cemetery and brought to Saint Denis for reburial in the crypt. Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor was premiered in 1817 at a memorial concert in the Saint Denis crypt to commemorate the anniversary of the guillotining of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The Requiem in C minor was a great success and soon established a wide circulation in Europe; it was even played at Beethoven’s funeral in 1827. The Requiem in C minor does not employ soloists. It is scored for four-part chorus, orchestra and basso continuo. In the manner of Beethoven with his Mass in C major (1807) Cherubini avoids breaking the various sections of the mass down into individual movements. In addition many people have remarked on the musical debt that Cherubini here owes to the style of Mozart. In this version Frieder Bernius in-between the Graduale and Sequence includes a Tract with the text Absolve, Domine, animas omnium fidelium defunct rum (Forgive, O Lord, the souls of all the faithful departed). Strangely the booklet notes say nothing of its inclusion. The Tract is sung by Schola Gregoriana Tübingen who are specialists in Gregorian chant, under the direction of their chorus-master Wilfried Rombach.

In the opening Introit and Kyrie the singing of the Kammerchor is reverential with significant poignancy. At 4:54 (track 1) in the Kyrie eleison one notices the gathering tension. Glorious if rather melancholic music in the Gradual is sung with the greatest of respect for the text. There is impeccable and sensitive singing of the Tract - ‘Absolve, Domine by Schola Gregoriana in the manner of a Gregorian chant. Commencing with a brass fanfare and a fearsome strike of the tam-tam, a highlight of the score is the wonderful and exciting performance of the magnificent Sequence. In the line Confutatis maledictis, Flammis acribus addictis’(When the damned are cast away and consigned to the searing flames) I marvelled at the explosive climax at the word ‘maledictis’ (point 5:14, track 4). From 6:36 (track 4), performed with vigour, the Lacrimosa dies illa (On this day full of tears) is moving and expressively sung by the Stuttgart choir.

The Offertorium contains much of real merit. I especially enjoyed the passage Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus (As thou didst promise Abraham and his seed) for its voluble and stirring climax (from point 4:23, track 4). By contrast from 7:31 (track 5) the text Hostias et preces tibi, Domine, laudis officious; (O Lord, we offer You sacrifices and praise) is given a gentle and serene performance by the Kammerchor. Following closely on and increasing in intensity and weight comes the reprise of the passage Quam olim Abrahae at 11:35 (track 5). The Sanctus and Benedictus is a very brief yet imposing movement and sacred restraint imbues the attractively sung Pie Jesu Domine. The final section is the Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi (Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world) depicting pain and suffering before gradually fading away to lie at eternal rest.

Throughout the score the Kammerchor display splendid diction and impressive unity with first class playing from the Hofkapelle on period instruments. Frieder Bernius controls his Stuttgart forces with sensitivity and assurance.

Recorded in May 2010 at the Evangelischen Kirche, Gönningen the recording is warm and generally clear with a degree of blurring in the louder passages. This well presented Carus release has full Latin texts and an essay with English translations provided. The recording is played on period instruments and is a superb achievement for Frieder Bernius and the Carus label.

Michael Cookson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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