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Daniel-François-Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)
Overtures - Volume 1
La Circassienne (The Girl from Caucasus) (1861) [7:59]
Le Cheval de bronze (The Bronze Horse) (1835) [7:28]
Le Domino noir (The Black Domino) (1837) [7:42]
Fra Diavolo, ou L’Hôtellerie de Terracina (Brother Devil, or the Inn at Terracina) (1830) [8:18]
La Fiancée (The Betrothed) (1829) [7:46]
Les Diamants de la couronne (The Crown Diamonds) (1841) [7:23]
Marco Spada (1852) [9:56]
L’Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Son) (1850) [7:21]
Orchestre de Cannes/Wolfgang Dörner
rec. Théâtre Croizette de l’hotel J W Marriott, Cannes, France, 24-25 June 2015
NAXOS 8.573553 [63:54]

Daniel-François-Esprit Auber was once called “The master of the witty overture”, possibly with ample reason. Many of his operas were great successes during his lifetime but today they are rare guests. Fra Diavolo pays a visit once in a while. It will be played at the Rome opera in October 2017, and his Manon Lescaut had a run of five performances in April this year (2016) at Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège. Some of his overtures were popular encores in the concert halls for many years and they have been recorded on 78s as well as on various compilations on LP and CD. I treasure a Decca album from the early 1970s, conducted by Richard Bonynge, an avid advocate of French repertoire. There's also an early Naxos issue (ca. 1991) of Richard Hayman conducts a nice mélange of Francophonia. Cambreling with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra also set down a collection of Auber overtures in the early 1980s.

Since the present issue is designated volume 1, we can expect a generous helping of similarly easily-listened French music from around 1820 until the end of the 1860s in volumes to come. Hearing these eight pieces in a row was interesting but in the last anaylsis a little exhausting. Even though they were composed over a period of more than thirty years, they can still be recognised as siblings. They invariably draw on hit-songs from each opera and Auber’s professional handling of the orchestration, though skilful, has a certain sameness. True, he employs some effects that make you wake up, like a side-drum that opens both the Fra Diavolo and the La Fiancée overtures. Trumpet fanfares are heard in La Circassienne and Fra Diavolo and Rossinian influences can be heard in Marco Spada and in Le Cheval de bronze with something there being the embryo of a crescendo. He often allots the melody to the wind instruments, especially the woodwind, which means that very often we hear a lot from the principal flute. Nothing wrong with that but it seems more like a template into which he forces the music, instead of letting the material develop freely.

All that said I can still admire his melodic invention. Sometimes he finds an interesting structure, like the procession in the beginning of the Fra Diavolo overture. It approaches, marches by at full force and disappears. This overture is arguably the most interesting.

I admired Orchestre de Cannes a few months ago in a delightful programme of music by Joseph Lanner. They don’t disappoint here either but may not be as inspired as they were by the Austrian. The sound was OK on my equipment.

Maybe I would have been more captivated if had listened to just one or two overtures at a time, and readers who contemplate a purchase are advised to savour the music by stages.

Göran Forsling
Previous reviews: Rob Maynard and Dan Morgan



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