Review: CHERUBINI Clytemnestre. la Mort De Mirabeau: Three Choruses. Circé. Amphion


The disc is titled Cherubini: Cantatas, but it also includes three choruses composed
for a play by Jean­Baptiste Pujoulx mourning the death of Honoré Gabriel Riquetti,
Comte de Mirabeau, an early hero of the French Revolution. These were current
events: The play and the music were written in 1791, the year of his death. The
choruses are a formal lamentation, a hopeful prayer, and a cry of grief (including
spoken lines) at the moment of death. A contrapuntal finale hints at Cherubini’s great
1816 Requiem in C Minor.

The 1794 Clytemnestre, for solo soprano and strings, is Cherubini at his finest; it also echoes the troubled times in Paris, couched in classical myth. Two recitatives are each followed by an aria. In the first pair, Clytemnestre rejoices in her daughter Iphigenia’s marriage to Achilles; in the second, she learns that an oracle has decreed that Iphigenia must be sacrificed to the gods, and she rages in anger and grief. The vocal lines are sleek and beautiful; the dramatic arc leads to a wild climax: pulls a knife and swears to follow her daughter into the grave. The only music I know that resembles this stunning work is Arriaga’s Agar, written some 30 years later. Clytemnestre demands a lyric soprano with an extraordinary range who can deliver a dramatic punch; it has found a spectacular one in Mailys de Villoutreys. The period strings have a lovely sweet­and­sour flavor.

Circé too is in a bad way; having been abandoned by her lover Ulysses, she is now contemplating death and raising hell in Hell, so that “Pluto himself trembles in his gloomy retreat.” The deep alto solo is supported by full chorus and a large orchestra (three trombones). Circé was written in the late 1780s; the young Cherubini was feeling his oats, already writing music that anticipated Beethoven. Contralto Ursula Ettinger is also excellent, albeit in a less sensational role than de Villoutreys’s Clytemnestre.

Amphion is an even earlier work, written by the 26­year­old composer to introduce himself to Paris. For reasons political as well musical, it was never performed (its text, by Mirabeau, is gently revolutionary, addressing the human condition and suggesting ways to improve it). The premiere was given by these forces in 2012, days before this recording. Cherubini reused the main themeto far better effect­in his overture to Anacreon. The solo tenor is joined by chorus and full orchestra, this time with trumpets instead of trombones. Knowing Cherubini’s later music, one can hear him feeling his way, searching for his style. Amphion is longer than Clytemnestre and Circé put together, but not half as interesting as either­until an extended aria, “Du monde et du temps, débris inutiles,” gorgeously sung by tenor Andreas Karasiak, and a rousing final chorus.

CPO’s recorded sound is crystal clear, in a warm acoustic setting. All the elements of the music are ideally balanced. The booklet identifies every performer, with superscript notations which can be decoded to find out who sings or plays what. Full texts for these unknown works are printed in side­by­side French, German, and English. I hereby disclaim several promises for Want List 2014; nothing can keep this stunning, revelatory disc from an honored position thereon.


James H. North

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11/6/2016 CHERUBINI: Clytemnestre. la Mort De Mirabeau: Three Choruses. Circé. Amphion – Fanfare | HighBeam Research