Cherubini: Messa solenne in D minor

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COMPOSERS: Cherubini
WORKS: Messa solenne in D minor
PERFORMER: Camilla Tilling, Atsuko Suzuki (soprano), Sara Fulgoni (contralto), Kurt Streit, Andreas Schulist (tenor), Tómas Tómasson (bass), Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Riccardo Muti
Temporarily down on his luck, Cherubini seems to have composed his monumental D minor Mass of 1811 with an eye on the job of Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family. The economic chaos caused by the Napoleonic wars put paid to Cherubini’s hopes; and the Mass – too grandly scaled for normal liturgical use – remained in his portfolio until 1822, when it was performed in Paris with a newly composed Sanctus. If Cherubini’s melodic ideas can be plain to the point of neutrality, the Mass is a noble, imposing, often moving work. The composer’s famed contrapuntal mastery has often been derided as aridly academic. But the fugue of the second Kyrie eleison, growing from its hushed, awed opening, is at once highly original and hauntingly expressive. Elsewhere the ‘Gratias’ and the ‘Et incarnatus est’, both for soloists, have a Haydnesque purity and radiance, while Cherubini’s operatic experience comes to the fore in, say, the tremendous, theatrically conceived ‘Qui tollis’, with its foretaste of Verdi. Riccardo Muti, long a champion of Cherubini’s sacred music, and his Bavarian forces do the Mass proud in this recording taken from a pair of concert performances. Muti shapes each movement with impressive breadth and control, equally responsive to the composer’s flamboyant dramatic coups and to the gravity and austerity which underlie much of the music. The choral work is unusually supple and refined for such a large body of singers, while the four main soloists make their mark both individually and as a well-balanced quartet. Richard Wigmore