CIMAROSA: Requiem – Valerie Gaball, sop./ Katalin Varkonyi, mezzo-sop./ Etienne Lescroart, tenor/ Roman Nedelec, baritone/ Choir de Chambre des Musiciens du Louvre/ La Philharmonie de Chambre/ Jeremie Rhorer – Ligia Lidi 0202243-12 (2 CDs), 53:42, 78:12 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Domenico Cimarosa (1749 – 1801) was an Italian opera composer of the Neapolitan school. Though his life was not that long, he achieved no little fame, and was able to create over eighty operas. His masterpiece, and the one piece he is known for today (ah the cruelties of fate!) is the rambunctious and delightful Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage, 1792). He was poor in his upbringing but extremely well-educated and well-read, creating his first opera buffa in 1772, Le stravaganze del conte, followed up by another that same year, and his fame began to spread all over Italy. He wrote all kinds of operas, farces, comedies, serious works, and religious-themed stage pieces as well. His prodigal abilities seemed to have no end, and in the end Verdi himself considered The Secret Marriage to be the model opera buffa. Near the end of his life he was victim to some hostile criticism and musical “camp” mentality by the friends of his old rival, Giovanni Paisiello, his almost exact contemporary and the one man whose abilities could be said to surpass Cimarosa’s in nearly the same repertory. Political intrigue was also no stranger to him, he ended up almost condemned to death at one point, finally leaving Naples for St. Petersburg, though he never made it—ill health (and a rumored poisoning, but who knows) got the better of him while in Venice, where he is buried.

St. Petersburg was a particularly welcoming place for him as Catherine the Great had invited him personally to Russia. He went in 1787, staying for four years, and was commissioned to mark the death of the wife of the French ambassador in St. Petersburg with his Requiem in G Minor, recorded here. Little else is known about the piece, and this is the fifth recording available, previous ones by Vittorio Negri, Neville Marriner, Kirk Trevor, and Silvano Frontalini holding the fort currently, the first especially noteworthy. This one is actually not new—it was recorded in concert in 2002 though I was unable to determine whether this is its first release. It appears as a promotional effort by the people at Ligia, coming up with a second disc of excerpts from its catalog, and a full color booklet is included—and not a word about the music, performers, or the composer. The sound is good, though I can’t say conclusively whether I prefer it over the Negri, but it’s nice to have another one available. Interpretation is excellent with good soloists and an orchestra up to snuff. The piece should be heard—it’s not Mozart, or even Süssmayr for that matter, but makes for engaging listening and will round out a decent classical collection in this area.

—Steven Ritter