Cherubini: Mass in F (Chimay)

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COMPOSERS: Cherubini
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Mass in F (Chimay)
PERFORMER: Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Herbert Lippert (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass); Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Riccardo Muti
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57589 2
Cherubini’s rarely heard F major Mass grew out of a Kyrie and Gloria he wrote in 1808 for the village church of Chimay in the Ardennes. Given the music’s date it’s hardly surprising that half-echoes of Haydn’s late Masses crop up from time to time. But as in the more familiar D minor Mass, Cherubini works on a larger, more imposing canvas. Occasionally the composer draws out innocent, Haydnesque material to inordinate lengths; and for all their vigour, the fugues that close the Gloria and Credo carry a whiff of the academicism with which Berlioz loved to taunt the Italian composer. But the Mass, juxtaposing austerity, intimacy and drama, is full of memorable music, whether in the harmonic coups of the ‘Laudamus te’, the lyrical sweetness of the ‘Et incarnatus est’, or the mysterious ‘Crucifixus’.

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Cherubini has no more ardent champion than Muti. And with his unflagging Bavarian forces he gives a performance that would be hard to surpass, compelling attention with his rhythmic vitality, dramatic flair and eloquent breadth of phrasing even when the composer is at his most prolix. All three soloists do well, though you’ll have to put up with moments of roughness from Ildar Abdrazakov’s dark, craggy bass. The recording, taken from concerts in Munich, is sonorous and well-balanced. My only serious proviso is the pretentious, often moronically translated booklet note, in minute type. Richard Wigmore