Schiavo/Auser Musici/Ipata Hyperion
Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) is often perceived as having a historical importance out of all proportion to the quality of his music. Italian born and trained, he settled Paris in 1788, where he made his name with a series of severely classical operas written in the aftermath of the French revolution and deemed masterpieces in their day. By 1805, his reputation was such that even Beethoven deferred to him. In later life, he ran the Paris Conservatoire: his pupils, finding him tyrannical, by and large hated him.
Nowadays we know him through a handful of works, of which his 1797 opera Medea and the C minor Requiem of 1816 are the most familiar. Carlo Ipata and Auser Musici, however, together with soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo, have gone in search of rarities, not in order to give us a portrait of Cherubini at the height of his influence, but to examine how he got to the top in the first place. Their discoveries are fascinating.
The unsmiling seriousness of purpose, so characteristic of his later work, was present as early as the overtures to Armida Abbandonata (1782) and Démophon (1788). What really surprises here, however, is that the lofty master of the severely sculpted phrase kicked off his career by writing coloratura showstoppers of fashionable difficulty for the divas of his day. Cherubini, when young, was, it would seem, more of an opportunist than we thought.
The performances, however, are less than ideal. Schiavo's coloratura generates the thrill of an athlete leaping hurdles. But when she essays anything like a sustained line, you're aware of shallowness in the tone. Ipata conducts with dogged energy and determination, though Auser Musici's very lean sound is, at times, too uningratiating for comfort.
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