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BBC Music Magazine, September 2014

…Cherubini’s only Symphony…after a Largo introduction has invited us to take a deep, relaxing breath, we move friskily along at an Allegro pace, accompanied by trilling flutes and exuberant horns. All rather lovely. © 2014 BBC Music Magazine

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, July 2010

Its four movements show little spark, novelty, or invention, and even less material that one can remember. After a brief Largo section, conductor Piero Bellugi and the Orchestre Sinfonica de Sanremo help the opening Allegro appear cheerful and bouncy enough. Following that are two middle movements, a Larghetto and a Minuetto, of mediocre quality that probably no one could help. And then things conclude with the best segment, the Allegro assai, which finally injects a little life into the proceedings.

Nevertheless, the most striking characteristic of the whole work is that its movements get progressively shorter as the piece wears on. The first movement is twice as long as the second movement. The second movement is twice as long as the third movement. And the final movement is, well, almost the same length as the third movement but shorter by a few seconds, at least as performed by Maestro Bellugi and his players. The timings are 13:09, 7:31, 4:44, and 4:37 minutes respectively.

The best parts of the disc are, as we might expect, the three opera overtures from Medee, Faniska, and Lodoiska. They display all the brilliance, fervor, menace, and excitement that are missing from the Symphony.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Cherubini’s music was greatly admired by Beethoven, and this fine symphony readily explains why. Its invention is consistently appealing and its structure no less impressive. The layout of the three overtures (again with attractive themes) is said to have influenced Beethoven. They once features regularly in concert programmes but are now (like the Symphony) almost never performed. Fortunately the Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo is a first-class ensemble and their conductor, Pieri Bellugi, provides dramatic and cultured performances of all this music, very well recorded. So this disc cannot be recommended too highly.

Music Teacher International, October 2008

A conducting student of Markevitch, Kubelik and Bernstein, Piero Bellugi has conducted major orchestras worldwide and has been active in founding youth orchestras in Italy and in the United States. Now principal conductor of the Sanremo Orchestra, Bellugi here gives scintillating performances of totally captivating music by the once-renowned Cherubini, a director of the Paris Conservatoire and a contemporary of Haydn and Beethoven. Grudgingly admired by Beethoven for his C minor Requiem, Cherubini’s fans also included Brahms and Schumann. Berlioz remarked of the Requiem,” The Agnus Dei surpasses anything ever written of its kind”. Besides the Symphony, all charm and no harm, three delightful overtures from his operas are performed here, including the well-known Médée, and the less familiar Faniska and Lodoïska. This is a clear, beautifully balanced disc, with distinctive and sonorous playing from all sections of the orchestra.

Andrew Fraser
Limelight, October 2007

His only symphony (D minor) was completed in 1815. It is an arresting piece of music…The disc concludes with three overtures (Medée, Faniska and Lodoïska) that are of equal quality. Piero Bellugi and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo play this music, which they obviously adore, with energy and conviction. The recorded sound is up to Naxos’ usual standard. Bellugi and his orchestra are to be praised for giving this often neglected gem another life.

James H. North
Fanfare, September 2007

The orchestra of San Remo, a small town just east of Monaco, is one of Italy’s finest: brilliant, if not subtle; and displaying a varied palette. This performance of Cherubini’s only symphony is big and potent. In a work we normally hear as a last remnant of the Classical era, Bellugi points ahead toward the Romantic. Although one misses the tightly disciplined readings of Toscanini, Cantelli, and—best of all—Donato Renzetti, the grand style and delicious colors of this performance make it a strong competitor. Naxos’s recorded sound is fresh and up close; strings are spread widely across the soundstage, woodwind solos are spotlighted, and a highly reverberant ambience clouds the tutti at or above f. Nevertheless, it is hard not to love this recording, which frees Cherubini from his dry-as-dust reputation, making him sound much like the free-spirited Arriaga.

All in all, a winning disc. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, May 2007

It is good to have this new Naxos release of a symphony and three opera overtures from the influential Florentine composer Luigi Cherubini. My experiences at recorded music societies have confirmed that Cherubini’s name is still relatively unknown, which is surprising owing to the high quality of a great deal of his music.

Given the relative neglect of Cherubini in recent times it is hard to imagine just how esteemed he was in his day, being regarded in the same exalted league as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Mendelssohn. In fact, Beethoven gave the well connected Cherubini the accolade of ‘the greatest dramatic composer of his time’. At the height of his popularity Cherubini was feted as a composer for the stage, composing almost forty operas such as Lodoïska (1791), Médée (Medea)(1797),Les deux journées (1800) and Les Abencérages (1813).

As a strong advocate of Cherubini I believe the most enduring section of his output is his often revelatory sacred music. Although a portion of Cherubini’s music has been released on disc over the last twenty years or so, to assemble a collection is not an easy task. To assist the reader, from my collection I have listed at the end of this review a number of high quality Cherubini recordings that can be obtained with reasonable effort.

The feature work on this Naxos release is Cherubini’s Symphony in D major. This formed part of a commission from the then recently established Philharmonic Society of London in 1815. The four movement score was championed in the 1950s by the renowned Parma-born conductor Arturo Toscanini. Noted for his tireless interest in rare repertoire Toscanini programmed the score for two seasons with the NBC Symphony. Toscanini biographer John W. Freeman described the work in 1987 as, “Mediterranean in feeling, it is lighter than the Haydn and Mozart models…more akin to Mendelssohns Italian Symphony.” Light and undemanding, it is a reasonably appealing work that rather lacks memorability but is certainly deserving of the occasional outing. Evidently it was not a success when first performed and the dissatisfied Cherubini subjected it to considerable revision; even arranging the greatly altered score into his String Quartet No. 2 in C major (1829). The revised version performed here is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets with strings and timpani.

In the opening movement, an Allegro with a brief Largo introduction, I was immediately struck by the brisk approach adopted by Florentine conductor Piero Bellugi and his Sanremo Symphony Orchestra. Not surprisingly the 1952 version from Toscanini and the NBC SO on RCA is taken at an even faster clip. On the CPO label English conductor Howard Griffiths and his Zürich players in the opening Allegro provide a sense of restraint to their playing that required a touch more vigour.

Charming and tender playing from maestro Bellugi in the Larghetto cantabile movement that contains an element of nobility. Superb performances from the various solo Sanremo woodwinds that are heard to great effect at 1:14–1:35 and 4:11–5:25. In the recording one can detect an obtrusive thud at 4:14 (track 2). Characteristically Toscanini does not linger in the slow movement, by contrast Griffiths and his Zürich players seem over-cautious with an air of detachment. In the Scherzo-like Menuetto movement the Sanremo players provide a delightfully brisk and scampering performance. There is a swaggering enthusiasm from maestro Toscanini with playing of a Mendelssohnian character and a fine performance from the Swiss Orchestra under Griffiths who provide an interpretation of convincing mischievousness.

In the superior final movement marked Allegro assai maestro Bellugi orchestra offer nimble playing of haste and vigour, interspersed with episodes of considerable finesse. I especially enjoyed Bellugi’s remarkably buoyant and exhilarating closing measures at 3:40–4:36. Toscanini gives an urgent and sturdy reading in his dramatic reading without over-cooking the concluding bars. The vibrant and robust Zürich Chamber players build up a fair head of steam for an invigorating climax at 4:10–5:07.

The versions of the Symphony in D major mentioned above and also the ones most likely to be encountered are:

a) Zürich Chamber Orchestra under Howard Griffiths from 1997 recorded in Zürich, Switzerland on CPO 999 5212 (c/w overture Lodoïska and Il Giulio Sabino - Sinfonia). This CPO release has the benefit of clear and bright sound with interesting and informative booklet notes.

b) The recording of the NBC broadcast from Carnegie Hall, New York in 1952 from Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra on RCA Victor Red Seal 60278–2 RG (c/w Cherubini overtures: Ali-Baba, Anacreon and Médée and Domenico Cimarosa Overtures: Il matrimonio segreto and Il matrimonio per raggiro). The fifty year old mono sound quality, evidently digitally remastered, is disappointing in the opening movement of the Symphony but reasonably acceptable in the other tracks. The concise booklet notes leave the reader wanting more information.

c) Orchestra della Toscana under Donato Renzetti on Arts Music Red Line 47102–2 (c/w overtures: Médée, Ifigenia in Aulide and Le crescendo). This 1987 recording from Donato Renzetti is not a version that I am familiar with.

To accompany this recording of the Symphony in D major Naxos has included the opera overtures: Lodoïska (1791), Médée (Medea) (1797)and Faniska (1806). For some years, from the turn of the eighteenth century, it was fashionable to include popular Cherubini overtures in concert programmes. Although for many years Cherubini was based in Paris, successfully producing many of his operas there, I note that the three overtures selected here are all from operas that were staged in Vienna. In these attractive pieces Bellugi provides characterful and effortlessly engaging performances of great spirit.

At only fifty-six minutes the playing time on this Naxos disc is not over-generous. Cherubini’s short but significant orchestral works: the Marche funèbre (1820)and the Marche réligieuse (1825) could have been included or perhaps even the substantial Dirge on the death of Joseph Haydn for three solo voices and orchestra (1805).

The Naxos engineers have provided a clear and well balanced sound quality with decent enough annotation that provides all the basic information. Much attention has been lavished on this performance of Cherubini’s Symphony in D major and it becomes my first choice version.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

During the first half of the 19th century Luigi Cherubini dominated French musical life. He had managed to stay on both sides of the political divide that ravaged the country, and as administrator of the Paris Conservatoire could influence the direction of French music well into that century. He had been born and musically educated in Italy and obtained much acclaim with several ‘opera seria’ before a visit to Paris persuaded him that his place in music would be best served there. A large quantity of works, much of it sacred, was to follow, but it was his opera Lodoiska from 1791 that was to take him to an elevated level in Europe’s music. It was to set the scene for a complete change in opera that took away the simply picturesque and replaced it with works of serious and dramatic intent, Medee and Les deux journees, providing the basis for French opera in the 19th century. Most of his prodigious opera output is today forgotten, this disc reminding us in the three overtures of the potency of his writing. His only symphony still holds a fringe place in the repertoire, but is a pale reflection of the symphonic music composed by Schubert at much the same time. The overtures are a different matter, the weighty, powerful and melodically strong music of Faniska and Lodoiska being particular gems of their genre. The orchestra I have never encountered before, but they are a fine group who make a warm and nicely balanced sound in good sound quality.

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