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Bertil van Boer
Fanfare, January 2011

Poor Cimarosa. His early career as a spectacularly successful composer of opera buffa, perhaps one of the leading stars in a very popular field, sputtered when he encountered the Russian court. Catherine the Great, like her predecessors, had a thing for Italian opera, and in order to indulge this fancy was hell-bent upon inducing every major composer of the genre to come to St. Petersburg to write for her, and thus had her tentacles out to the kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies to recruit candidates. Men such as Paisiello, Traetta, and Sarti were all brought north to exercise their trade, and all seemed to have enjoyed success. Indeed, Sarti became so enamored of the country that he made the faux pas of trying to work in Russian, resulting in a period of disfavor and exile to Ukraine. There were, of course, other reasons as well for his removal, but the main point that any appointment could be tenuous with the great and energetic Catherine is well taken. Cimarosa was at the height of his fame, having accepted the post for a rather substantial remuneration and achieving success in places like Vienna on his way there. Once arrived in December of 1787, however, there were issues. Unbeknownst to him, Catherine was hedging her bets by hiring as his “assistant” the composer Vicente Martín y Soler, whose music was equally famous. One doesn’t have to be particularly astute to see a rivalry here. Moreover, he was depressed by the exclusivity of his services, as opposed to his being able in Naples to accept any commission from anyone, and finally, like so many others, the Russian winters did him in. By 1791 he had enough and left, returning to his former haunts, along the way composing Il matrimonio segreto, one of the best opera buffas of the time, for Vienna. Despite a brief revival of his Italian career, things went badly with the French occupation and he barely escaped a death sentence while imprisoned for his political activities.

This Requiem, one of several, seems to have been his inaugural foray into St. Petersburg, as it was written for the wife of the French ambassador. How long it took to compose is anyone’s guess, but given the time constraints, it must have been a matter of around a fortnight or so. The result, in G Minor, is a large piece, much of which is divided into smaller movements of only a couple of minutes long. The scoring is often quite thin in texture, which allows for more concentration to be focused upon the choral lines. The soloists are not used all that frequently, and the composer often likes to blend or contrast them with the chorus. This is a common technique, and in this instance handled competently. The opening G-Minor chorus Requiem aeternam is appropriately mournful, with soft choral entrances. In the Kyrie, there is a good start to a complex fugue, but Cimarosa seems to find the stile antico too confining and so doesn’t allow it to develop contrapuntally, instead substituting simple imitation. In the Benedictus, the alternation between solo soprano and chorus is succinct and texturally interesting. This is, as the disc cover notes, a work “of classical restraint.” Even the Dies irae, whose powerful text conjures up apocalyptic visions, is composed as a straightforward, non-aggressive chorus. It would seem that the danger here is that the Last Judgment is a time to settle in comfortably rather than worry about one’s sins. The only real surprise is the tenor aria “Preces meae,” at the beginning of which the voice must enter on an extremely high sustained note, punching through the orchestral texture like an arrow. All in all, it is a competent work, though Cimarosa should not in this instance be subject to the normal invidious comparisons with a certain contemporary whose Requiem has become legendary.

This rendition by one of Naxos’s usual-suspect orchestras, the Capella Istropolitana out of Slovakia, is…well done. The orchestra is subtle, underplaying much of the time to allow the vocal portions, particularly the chorus, to predominate. The Lúčnica chorus is a fairly substantial ensemble, but the diction is good and the singers are in tune. The bass line in the “In memoria” is particularly nicely done, with good octave leaps. Of the rest, the soprano Adriana Kučerová is every bit as solid as Elly Ameling in the Philips recording, and alto Terézia Kružliaková handles her portions well, particularly her sensitive interpretation of the “Judex ergo.” Both of the men are also all right, although tenor L’udovít Ludha’s entrance in the “Precis meae” is startling, wavering on the edge of a cliff waiting to fall off pitch or voice. It is pure opera buffa, which for a Requiem might seem a bit awkward. The recording quality is not crystal-clear, but rather wooly at times. This does enrich the sound but also creates an sort of blanket that doesn’t especially contribute to the energy this work needs to come alive. Still, it holds its own against earlier recordings and if you are a fan of masses for the dead, you’ll probably want to have it.

Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, December 2010

An Italian opera composer’s Requiem, long on sorrow but short of drama

Lured to St Petersburg in December 1787 by the Russian court’s insatiable appetite for Italian opera, Cimarosa immediately found himself faced with an unexpected commission: for a Messa da Requiem to mark the sudden death of the wife of the French ambassador. As Keith Anderson rightly warns in his informative note, it would be unfair to compare Cimarosa’s hastily composed Requiem with Mozart’s unfinished masterpiece of four years later. There is little drama, even less terror or anguish (the Day of Judgement passes with barely a shudder). The prevailing tone is of dignified solemnity and muted sorrow, with the sequence of (mainly) brief movements given sufficient variety by the alternation of chorus and solos, block harmony and imitative textures.

The composer whom Stendhal once dubbed the greatest Italian musical poet of love shows himself an adept contrapuntist in the stern fugues at “Amen” and “Cum sanctis tuis”. Once or twice opera buffa levity creeps in. The “Tuba mirum”, with solo soprano egged on by blithely tooting horns, must surely be the jauntiest-ever depiction of the last trumpet. But there is some noble, deeply felt music here, whether in the “Inter oves” trio for soprano, alto and bass (a quasi-operatic ensemble given a sober ecclesiastical makeover) or the Benedictus, with the solo soprano’s elegiac song answered by soft choral monotones.

This all-Slovakian performance is acceptable, if some way from ideal the choral singing is longer on full-throated enthusiasm than tonal subtlety, and textures tend to blur in the resonant acoustic. Rhythms can plod—not altogether inappropriate to a Requiem, you might say, though the music would certainly have benefited from lighter bow strokes and more variety of accent. The two women soloists are both fine, especially the shining-toned soprano Adriana Kučerová.

William J Gatens
American Record Guide, November 2010

The performance is respectable…

To read complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, August 2010

Don’t expect the high drama of the Verdi or Mozart Requiem – this work by Cimarosa is aptly described on the rear cover as characterised by classical restraint. It is, nevertheless, well worth getting to know and the performance here is thoroughly competent, with Naxos returning to the Capella Istropolitana who made so many fine recordings for them in their early days. With good recording and informative notes – texts and translations included in the pdf booklet, too – only the rather short playing time detracts from the attractiveness of the download.

James Manheim, August 2010

Neapolitan composer Domenico Cimarosa started out as a church musician, but made his name in opera. His skills earned him court appointments, and one of them, in the mid-1780s, from Catherine the Great of Russia. It was for her court, to memorialize a deceased French ambassador, that this Requiem in G minor for soloists, chorus, and orchestra was composed in 1787. Taken for what it is, without expectation that it will much resemble Mozart’s or Haydn’s church music, it’s an attractive work...some very operatic arias where you sense that Cimarosa was in his element. Most of them offer long, sustained melodies that can hold their own with the solos in Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339, and other choral music of the period. Sample the lovely alto solo setting of the “Judex ergo” (track 7), given a creamy reading by Terézia Kruzliaková. The vocal performance standards on this Eastern European release are uniformly high, and the smooth overall texture forged by American conductor Kirk Trevor, leading the venerable Capella Istropolitana, does the job in putting the soloists front and center. Mozart might easily have had this or other requiem settings in his head when composing his ultimate masterpiece, and anyone curious about Cimarosa’s sacred output can be encouraged to give this album a try.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2010

Domenico Cimarosa’s music today holds little more than a toehold in the repertoire, though in better days he was the most popular late 18th century opera composer. His younger years were blighted by his father’s early death, but by generosity of the church he enjoyed a good musical education. His mature years saw him employed in various parts of Europe, his catalogue of operas growing to eighty while he retained a major presence in the church. The present Requiem was composed in a great hurry to mark the death of the wife of the French ambassador in St. Petersburg while Cimarosa was working in the city and in the employment of Catherine II. It was in the standard format of a Requiem Mass, its eighteen sections moving from the mood of supplication, through the day of wrath, and eventually reaching salvation. Maybe his operatic background did turn much of the work into a series of arias and duets. That is highlighted by a quartet of soloists who are heavily involved in the theatre, and I certainly have never heard such a beautiful Recordare, the voices of Adriana Kucerova and Terezia Kruzliakova so perfectly complementing one another. The resolute tenor of L’udovit Ludha sends a shudder of fear in the Preces meae, while the bass, Gustav Belacek, continuing the mood in Inter oves. The long-established and highly regarded Lucnica Chorus from Slovakia is very happy in the Cimerosa era, producing a clean tonal quality. It is good to have the outstanding Slovakia ensemble, Capella Istropolitana, returning to Naxos, their performance is so neat and with such an elegant tonal quality. The British conductor, Kirk Trevor, offers an unfussy and nicely paced account, extremely well recorded.

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