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Étienne-Nicholas MÉHUL (1763-1817)
Ouvertures et oeuvres révolutionnaires
Overtures – Mélidor et Phrosine (1794) [8:26]; Ariodant (1799) [4:31]; Le Chasse de jeune Henri (1797) [11:24]; Stratonice (1792) [6:19]; Joseph (1807) [6:17]; Euphrosine, ou le tyran corrigé (1790) [8:21]; Le Chant du départ (1794) [2:22]; Le 18 Fructidor (1798) [2:10]; Hymne du IX Thermidor [0:49]; Hymne à la raison (1793) [2:29]; Hymne fes vingt-deux (1795) [2:32]; Hymne purl as fête des époux (1798) [2:54]; Le Chant du retour (1797) [2:37]
Les Jacobins (Anne Thivierge (flute), Washington McClain (oboe), Jane Booth and Jean-François Normand (clarinets), Louis-Phillippe Marsolais and Louis-Pierre Bergeron (horns), Mathieu Lussier and Lise Millet (bassoons))
rec. Église Saint-Augustin, Mirabel, Canada, June 2012
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD2 2659 [62:30]

 
Méhul was one of the most important composers working in France during the time of Beethoven. His operas differ from each other in character and plot. Even when their “happy” ends mean that they fall within the category of “comedies” there is usually an underlying seriousness and nobility of theme which links them directly to the music of Gluck and, in turn, to that of Berlioz.
 
It would be wonderful to welcome complete recordings of all the operas represented here, or even of the Overtures in their original versions, but what it included here is so enjoyable that it is best simply to enjoy it on its own terms. Each of the Overtures has been arranged for wind octet, presumably by Mathieu Lussier. Unlike the octet arrangements of operas by Mozart, Beethoven and others that have been recorded before one of the oboes is replaced by a flute. This adds much to the variety of texture and colour available to the arranger and the results are thoroughly convincing. Only occasionally did I wish for the greater variety of the full orchestrations but not at all in the one Overture where I expected to - Le Chasse de jeune Henri, which unsurprisingly is dominated by horn calls in the original version. The two gallant horn players here are kept busy but manage to avoid any feeling of being over-extended. The booklet draws attention to the use of period instruments. This is odd when the works themselves have been rewritten but the actual sounds of the instruments are delightfully pungent and varied. The players have to work hard when they lack the string foundation of the original versions but they phrase with much character and exemplary technique. The recording is close but not excessively so.
 
The other works all relate to Revolutionary celebrations, and on the whole their Gluckian nobility outweighs any reminders of the Red Army Band. For much of the time it is like listening to an early and much smaller version of Berlioz’s Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale. The only comparative disappointment was the Le Chant du départ which lacked the sheer energy and fervour that it usually has in vocal performances. It is however only a very small part of the whole.
 
Overall this is an enterprising, well played and well presented disc which is likely to provide much pleasure.
 
John Sheppard
 

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