Classical CD review: Auber, Overtures

By William Dart

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Auber, Overtures (Naxos)
Auber, Overtures (Naxos)

You're not too likely to encounter the music of Auber in today's opera houses and concert halls.

Well, not in this country, although a few months back Belgium's Royal Wallonie Opera resuscitated his 1856 Manon Lescaut, an operatic curiosity that predates Massenet and Puccini's similarly-titled scores by decades.

But Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber (1782-1871) was the toast of the Parisian music scene in his time. The genial Rossini described the diminutive Frenchman as a small musician but a great maker of music, although Wagner was less charitable, likening him to a barber who works up a lather but never manages to do any shaving.

Auber's once popular lighter operas, such as Fra Diavolo and The Bronze Horse, lost their appeal in the twentieth century when, as Gustav Kobbe put it, audiences were less willing to tread the sunny middle road of opera comique.

His overtures, however, do retain a period charm and this initial volume of eight of them marks an ongoing commitment by Naxos to record the composer's complete output.

Conductor Wolfgang Dorner, with his Orchestre de Cannes, offers spirited performances, acoustically set in the ambiance of an opera house, even if string intonation is somewhat tested in lyrical passages, such as the opening to The Crown Diamonds.

It is difficult, though, to be too hard-hearted with such joy-filled music. Auber's galops and marches are cheerfully tinted with splashes of cymbal and the tinkle of triangle, right through to his 1861 La Circassienne, a truly remarkable feat for the 80-year-old composer.

What: Auber, Overtures (Naxos)
Verdict: Making overtures with French style and bonhomie

- NZ Herald

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