Overture in G major; Symphony in D major; Marches
Filarmonica della Scala/Riccardo Chailly
Decca 483 1591 74.25 mins
The two best pieces on this disc are the first and the last, so if the procession of mediocre funeral marches starts to get you down jump to track 15 – it’s yet another funeral march, but is exceptionally impressive and a magnificent piece of ceremonial music. The annoying thing about Cherubini is that when he is good, he is very good, as in much of his opera Médée, though it is normally messed around with and performed in Italian. But far too often he lapses into a studious academicism which makes one sympathise with Berlioz’s frequent contempt for him.
Riccardo Chailly, an enthusiastic investigator of Italian musical byways, here presents 11 previously unrecorded pieces, nine of them marches, though not all of them are for funerals. Other than the last piece, the Overture in G major which opens the disc is the most worthwhile piece, while the half-hour Symphony in D major which follows it is deadly, showing only that Cherubini was never lacking in fluency even when he must have been as bored composing as an audience nowadays would be listening. His main gift was for the ceremonial, for music of gesture, with lavish provisions of percussion. Otherwise his orchestral music tends to sound as if it is excerpted from a melodramatic opera, as is evident in the Symphony, which the composer strangely revisited and turned into a string quartet. I don’t think we need any more Cherubini ‘discoveries’. Michael Tanner