Cherubini: Lodoïska

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Luigi Cherubini
LABELS: Ambroisie/Naïve
ALBUM TITLE: Cherubini: Lodoïska
WORKS: Lodoïska
PERFORMER: Nathalie Manfrino, Hjördis Thébault, Noguera, Pierre-Yves Pruvot, Alain Bluet; Le Cercle de l’harmonie; Les Éléments/Jérémie Rhorer
CATALOGUE NO: AM209

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Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) divides opinion sharply, and always has: Beethoven venerated him and thought he was the greatest of his contemporaries (though Cherubini did not reciprocate, describing Beethoven’s music as ‘rough’), while Berlioz devoted immense energies to hating him and his music. Cherubini’s most popular opera is Medea, available in numerous live performances with Callas; but they are in Italian, translated and modified from French, and with recitatives composed to replace spoken dialogue. Nonetheless, they are far more likely than anything else to convince you that the work is a masterpiece.

Lodoïska is a rescue opera, of a kind that became highly popular during the French revolutionary period, and of which Beethoven’s Fidelio is the sublime exemplar, indeed the only great one. Lodoïska is safely set in 17th-century Poland, and involves rescuing a lovely young woman from the clutches of a tyrant. It has always struck me as an extraordinarily dull piece, full of energy but melodically and dramatically uninspired. If you want to find out what it’s like, the Sony recording under Riccardo Muti makes a better case for it. This new one, partly recorded live in La Fenice, partly in Rome, has reliable if not striking singers, though they are not compelling in the numerous spoken passages; and it is played on period instruments, with a refreshing rawness. It is a somewhat abbreviated edition, but not many listeners are likely to object to that. The basic problem, apart from monotony of rhythm, is that no one is even faintly characterised, so it is impossible to care whether Lodoïska is rescued by her lover or not. The standard of presentation by Naïve is commendably high: much information in three languages, and the full text too; with hard cardboard covers.

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Michael Tanner