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Etienne Nicolas MÉHUL (1763-1817)
Symphony No. 1 in G minor (1808-9) [26.26]
Symphony No. 2 in D major (1808-9) [24.34]
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
rec. Studio 103, Radio France, Feb 1989
WARNER APEX 0927 49535 2 [58.29]

Méhul was one of those French composers along with Grétry much beloved of Beecham. In the 1890s and 1900s Beecham's trips to Paris were spent poking around libraries and bookshops for toothsome discoveries with which to delight British audiences.
The Méhul we know through Beecham is the Méhul of the operatic overture – the bite-sized chunk. These two Beethovenian symphonies are burly and alive with dissolute and unruly life. Each is in four movements. They stand clear of Beethoven's first two symphonies and share something of the Fourth and Eighth symphonies. In the pizzicato Menueto of the First Symphony Méhul seems to prefigure Tchaikovsky whereas in the finale the model may be Beethoven's Fifth even if the liner-notes indicate that Méhul could not possibly have known that work. This piece, especially in the finale, evinces brilliant work by the winds of the Musiciens du Louvre. In the Second Symphony Beethoven's Seventh is standing n the wings. Lightning and victory crown the end of the first movement. A thunderous and also Haydnesque menuetto and trio is alive with abrasion and tension. The finale looks toward to the more demonstrative episodes from Beethoven's Pastoral. It was Napoleon who commented to Méhul that his symphonies were too Germanic. One can understand this hearing these symphonies. However this composer also struck out in directions later to be fully developed by Berlioz and Mendelssohn.
There are four complete symphonies from the period 1808-1810. A fifth was in process but only first movement survives as disillusion and tuberculosis took hold. If you want to hear all four plus two overtures there is an admirable full price set on Nimbus NI 5184/5 (see review) where the Gulbenkian Orchestra is conducted by Michel Swierczewski in recordings made in. Lisbon in December 1988. Those Lisbon recordings were made for the Bicentennial of the French Revolution. Indeed Méhul lived through those turbulent days.
Excellent Beethovenian symphonies - a real discovery if you are exploring your way through classical period symphonies. Minkowski and the Louvre players clearly have a whale of a time.
Rob Barnett


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