Movement 1: Introit and Kyrie
Movement 2: Graduale
Movement 3: Dies irae
Movement 4a: Offertorium. Domine Jesu Christe
Movement 4b: Offertorium. Hostias
Movement 5: Sanctus
Movement 6: Pie Jesu
Movement 7: Agnus Dei
The work opens with a hushed Introit and Kyrie, whose dark tones rarely rise much above piano. This is followed by a short Graduale. Not surprisingly, Cherubini is at his most dramatic in the Dies irae, which opens with a flourish from the brass in unison, interrupted by a single, arresting stroke on the tam-tam. This highly unconventional gesture caused something of a stir at the time. Scurrying strings add to the mood of tension and foreboding, before the brass once more blazes forth. The Offertorium contains some beautiful three-part choral writing, accompanied by upper strings and woodwind, and ends with a vigorous fugue at the words ‘Quam olim Abrahae’. A short Sanctus is followed by the Pie Jesu, which is in the form of three simple verses. The powerful opening of the Agnus Dei eventually gives way to a quieter section, until at the final pages sparsely-accompanied unison writing brings the Requiem to a resigned conclusion.
The work is full of attractive choral and orchestral writing, rhythmic invention and skilful counterpoint, for which Cherubini was justly renowned, but in more recent times it has not fared well in the company of other more immediately appealing works. One has only to consider the intensity of Mozart’s Requiem, the visionary quality of Brahms’s, the dramatic impact of Verdi’s and the poignancy of Fauré’s to understand why Cherubini’s setting so rarely features in today’s choral repertoire, yet it has many fine qualities and surely deserves to be heard more frequently.
from notes by John Bawden © 1995