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Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Cherubini Discoveries
Filarmonica della Scala/Riccardo Chailly
rec. 2016, Sala prove Abanella, Milan
DECCA 483 1591 [74:25]

Luigi Cherubini is a transitional figure in the Classical period, infusing Mozartean "operatic" drama with a volatility pointing the way to Beethoven. Decca calls this new disc Cherubini Discoveries - but is the Symphony in D really such a "discovery"?  It has been turning up on discs since the days of Toscanini and Cantelli; I've had a lovely Philips LP of it, conducted by Wilfred Boettcher, for decades and, checking Amazon's offerings, I was startled at the number of digital-era productions which had gotten by me.

Time and sheer attrition have made Riccardo Chailly an elder statesman of the podium. He would seem ideally chosen for this material: he has a good basic feel for the slashing, dramatic gestures of the bristling Allegros, and invests the slower, lyrical music with a suitable formality. Unfortunately, he falls short. Both in the symphony's outer movements and in the Overture, the tempos occasionally push forward slightly, less a case of actual tempo instability than of infirm rhythmic grounding. (This may also have been a problem with Chailly's series of Concertgebouw recordings in the '90s: I didn't like them well enough then to revisit them now.)  When the conductor does try to maintain steady tempi, he chooses the wrong ones. His scherzo-like tempo for the symphony's Minuetto is too quick for the double-tongued wind chords that introduce the middle section, and they lose some momentum; so, too, do the tutti dotted rhythms in the finale.

In the symphony's Larghetto cantabile, Chailly observes the first-part repeat, ordinarily good Classical practice, but here the movement feels endless - I even thought I was hearing a second-part repeat, though the score I found on the Petrucci site ( indicates otherwise. Add to this, in both symphony and overture, Cherubini's foreshadowing by some decades of the "Dvořák problem" - stacking up multiple possible endings, one after the next - and, by the end of the symphony, I had become thoroughly annoyed, with all those marches still to go.

In fact, the marches, all occasional pieces, are the real discoveries here, showing us the composer's craft and imagination when working on a smaller scale. Those scored for wind ensemble are intensely reedy, with bright, forward oboes and clarinets. while perky dotted rhythms provide uplift. The orchestral marches offer more variety of timbre and mood, generally striking a more pensive tone.

General Louis Lazare Hoche must have been very popular: he got two contrasting marches - whether for his actual funeral or for a later memorial, the booklet leaves unclear - while Charles X, for his coronation, had to make do with one. Their respective Marches religieuses are thoughtful, reflective pieces; Chailly plays them particularly well, inflecting the lyrical, solemn string chorales expressively. The second march for the General is more elaborate and demonstrative, with a contrasting faster section. This and the sombre, even anguished, Marche funèbre ultimately leave the strongest impression.

The reproduction is excellent, a digital simulacrum of Decca's analogue "house sound." Oddly, the notes suggest that the Marche pour instruments à vent, Chimay 12 juillet 1809 was composed in 1806. This makes no sense to me, and is probably a misprint, but, absent any corroboration or contradiction, I've let it stand in the headnote.

Stephen Francis Vasta

Disc contents
Overture in G minor (1815) [10:17]
Symphony in D (1824) [31:53]
Marche religieuse pour le jour du sacre de Charles X (1825) [3:14]
Marche religieuse pour le pompe funèbre du Général Hoche (1797) [2:02]
Marcia compostà per il sig. Baron di Braun alla sua terra de Schönau presso Vienna 1805 [3:34]
Marche du préfet du département de I'Eure et Loir (1800) [2:15]
Marche pour le retour du préfet du départment de L'Eure et Loir (1800) [2:18]
Marche pour instruments à vent, Chimay 12 juillet 1809 (1806?) [3:26]
Marche, Chimay 22 septembre (1810) [1:43]
Marche, 8 février 1814 (1814) [1:11]
Marche pour le pompe funèbre du Général Hoche (1797) [4:56]
Marche funèbre (1820) [6:58]

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