Markéta Čepická, Czech Chamber Philharmonic, Pardubice, Dario Salvi
Hot on the heels of Salvi’s previous Naxos releases (another Auber disc and the premiere recording of Johann Strauss II’s Blindekuh), this second volume of Auber’s orchestral music adds greatly to Naxos’ survey of this neglected composer’s work. It is perhaps a slight misnomer to call the disc the second edition of Auber Overtures, as the most prominent work on display in this selection is the violin concerto, written around 1805, around the same time as Auber’s opera Julie, which was poorly received by the critical writers of the time. The concerto opens with a highly Mozartian first movement (in fact the similarities with Mozart’s 4th Violin Concerto are hard to miss), which, at 9 minutes is by far the longest of the work’s movements. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest to get to grips with. By no means unattractive, it opens very gently, but with pleasing melodic material, which is woven into a fairly tight structure at the outset. However, said structures seem to become less sound as the moment goes on, the melodic material becoming strangely less memorable and I was left feeling slightly bewildered by its close. By contrast, the second and third movement are gems in their own right, the central movement being a mournful halting melody, which eventually gives way to some brief optimism, before being rounded off in its hushed minor key of origin. It is brief and mournful, feeling almost like an interlude between the two outer movements, but it provides a beautiful counter-balance to the largely upbeat work. The following final movement bears more than a hint of folk music and tinges of modality quite uncommon in concertos of this period, whilst maintaining a customary rondo form. The soloist is required to perform considerable virtuosic feats in this presto movement, including several points in which there are two melodies simultaneously on the same solo instrument as well as the more common cross-string harmonisation found in many concertos. In truth, the inspiration of the final movement alone is worth giving the concerto many more performances than it has yet had. The forces required are small: a chamber orchestra and soloist, which also lends the work a more restrained and refined tone than some of its more fully orchestrated contemporaries. The overture which opens the disc is from Le Concert a la cour, which is full of wit and memorable musical material. Indeed, while Auber is not always necessarily an innovator (he is after all composing in genres for which there was a demand at the time), what always shines through is the composer’s ability to compel the listener to engage further, through his trademark lightness and musical humour. Not all of the overtures are equally brilliant, of course, but highlights include this aforementioned entry as well as the excerpts from Julie, which are scored for strings only. With music of this quality, it does leave one wondering what the issue was with the opera’s lack of success, though some suggest it has a lot to do with the libretto. Performances on this CD are a very high standard, but I’m happy to report that equally good on this disc is the quality of the recording. Audio quality is vastly improved from the first Auber release from Naxos (clearly recorded in a far too small hall), save for the odd moment of background hum, but the engineers have skilfully avoided this becoming in any way distracting. Violin soloist Markéta Čepická gives an excellent rendition of the concerto with perfect articulation in the work’s most difficult and demanding passages – undoubtedly an artist to watch. Her contrast between the very gentle central movement, played with expressive perfection, and the final movement’s virtuoso fireworks is sublimely executed. Salvi’s interpretation of Auber’s music is very refined indeed and one can hear the attention to detail and level of personal research that has gone into the performance in every track on the disk. In particular, as unhelpful as the word “authentic” can be, Salvi is at pains to produce a performance which he hopes is as close as possible to what might have been performed in the composer’s time, with close observation of likely suggested tempi found in the original orchestral scores in the composer’s writing. Salvi’s talent is in being no more “showy” than the music demands, allowing the sense of refinement in the music as much space as the more clearly declamatory moments. All of this makes for a hugely recommended recording and I have no hesitation in saying that this is Naxos’ best exploration yet of Auber’s catalogue of works. If some of them interest the orchestral musician, incidentally, the LMS library boasts a good few sets of his overtures!