Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Marche funèbre (1820) [7:20]
Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn (1805) [19:14]
Requiem in C minor (1816) [49:51]
Akiho Tsujii (soprano); Martin Lattke (tenor); Paul Kroeger (tenor) (all Chant)
Kammerchor der Frauenkirche Dresden,
Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg-Gera/Matthias Grünert
rec. live 6-8 February 2017, Concert Hall of the Bühnen der Stadt Gera, Germany
RONDEAU PRODUCTION ROP6142 [76:25]
In November 2010 Michael Cookson reviewed a period-instrument recording of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem conducted by Frieder Bernius (Carus) that so impressed him he designated it a Recording of the Month (review). I also reviewed that recording a few months later and was moved by it, indicating that I couldn’t imagine the work receiving better treatment (review). The sole drawback was the disc’s short timing, since the requiem was the only work presented.
Now we have this new performance by a Dresden choir and employing modern instruments, and the disc includes two substantial fillers. The Marche funèbre has appeared before with the Requiem, but the much longer Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn has not to my knowledge. As with the earlier performance, this one is recorded live. With fuller sound this recording adds depth and gravitas to the music, though at the expense of clarity and incisiveness of Bernius’ account. If I had just one recording of the Cherubini Requiem I would opt for Bernius, but Grünert has much going for it, too.
If Bernius looks back to Mozart, Grünert is positively Beethovian in his performance. This is a big account and the choir is impressive, if not as refined as Bernius’ forces. The orchestra plays at standard pitch, whereas Bernius with his period group are a half-step lower. What is particularly noticeable at the start of the Dies irae is its startling tam-tam stroke, as potent as Bernius’ but with a deeper sound, and the brass fanfare following it. The sound tends to swallow up the choir, so when the singers come in they are not as clearly heard as they are with Bernius. Like Bernius, Grünert inserts the tract of the liturgy for the dead, Absolve, Domine, sung a cappella, into the score. Michael Pauser of the International Cherubini Society in the CD notes cites Cherubini as calling for this insertion of Gregorian chant. Older recordings omitted this section presumably because it is not part of the actual score. It may be viewed as effective liturgically, but also disruptive musically. Of course it can always be omitted, since it is tracked separately. Elsewhere, both accounts have their respective virtues, though Bernius has the advantage in his SACD recording’s clearer and more vibrant sound.
What makes this disc a more attractive alternative are the other pieces on the programme. The Marche funèbre is cut from the same cloth as the Requiem and employs the tam-tam in a way similar to its use in the earlier work. Grünert seems to revel in the tam-tam’s role and the work’s vehemence. The Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn, on the other hand, is quite a contrast. I had not heard it before. Cherubini composed it in 1805, when a rumour had spread in Paris that Haydn had died. He was commissioned by a Masonic Lodge there. The première took place in 1810 after Haydn had actually died. The work is cantata-like in structure with a long orchestral introduction, lasting roughly a third of the piece, followed by two sections for tenor solo, one for soprano, and finally a trio of the two tenors and the soprano. The tenor soloists each act as coryphaei (the name given to choir leaders in ancient Greek tragedies) and they are followed by a “voix de femme,” the soprano soloist. As Pauser explains, “out of the [work’s] gloomy character in the minor key, a brighter character in major gradually emerges.” The last part for the three soloists is especially lovely. The tenor soloists on this recording are well matched and in fine voice and the soprano is radiant. There is no choir in this particular work, but the orchestra plays an important role with notable parts for the brass and memorable horn solos. I was quite taken with this work and I am certain to return to it. Intentionally, or not, the piece reminded me of Haydn’s Creation in its vocal writing.
I still prefer the Bernius account of the Requiem for the qualities noted above, but the additional works on this disc are worthy in themselves and the performance of the Requiem is very good, resulting in an enticing proposition overall.