July 30, 2020


Auber: Overtures, Volume 2—Le Concert à la cour, Fiorella, Julie, Lestocq, Léocadie, Couvin, La Fiancée; Violin Concerto. Markéta Čepická, violin; Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice conducted by Dario Salvi. Naxos. $11.99.

Twilight: Tribute to Women Jazz Composers. Mike Kaupa, flugelhorn and trumpet; Ric Vice, bass; Tom George, piano. MSR Jazz. $12.95.

     Daniel-François-Esprit Auber lived such a long life – 1782 to 1871 – that he had plenty of time to build a reputation and, eventually, outlive it. A prolific stage composer with some 50 operas and similar works to his credit, he is known today only for occasional performances of Fra Diavolo or La Muette de Portici and once-in-a-while concert programming of an overture here and there. This gives a conductor with an ear for the long-unheard-but-still-interesting, such as Dario Salvi, a fertile field for exploration, and a new Naxos release featuring Salvi leading the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice in music by Auber proves a very worthwhile experience. Actually, although the disc is designated as containing overtures, it is really a potpourri: of the 13 items offered, only four are overtures, the rest being often-very-short introductory and connective music for various works. The neglect of Auber’s music is strikingly shown by the fact that 11 of the 13 pieces here are world première recordings: only the overtures to Fiorella (1826) and Léocadie (1824) have been recorded before. It is quite easy, in listening to Salvi’s poised and idiomatic handling of the music, to be surprised at the neglect of so much fine material – and at the same time to understand the neglect, since the music seems largely transferable from work to work and is always pretty much of the same character, whether drawn from Auber’s very first stage work, Julie (1805), or from the latest heard here, Lestocq (1834). Even in works with more-dramatic libretti (often written by Eugène Scribe, with whom Auber had a lengthy professional relationship), there is a certain gentleness and elegance of flow to the music that makes it easy for attentive listeners to recognize Auber’s personal style – while at the same time showing that that style did not vary much over time, meaning that as tastes in staged works changed, Auber’s popularity, unsurprisingly, faded. A fascinating sidelight on this disc is a work that is not for the stage at all: Auber’s sole Violin Concerto, written at just about the time he started committing himself to the stage (1805) and featuring a solo part that is, by the standards of the time, positively anti-soloistic. The work is pastoral, somewhat meandering, unremittingly pleasant, unchallenging for the soloist, and by and large sounds more like a 19th-century update of a Baroque concerto (with the soloist often fading into the ensemble) than a concerto of the Classical or early Romantic era. Markéta Čepická plays it quite well by virtue of not overplaying it in the least: restraint is the order of the day here, and the overall effect is one of near-chamber-music congeniality throughout. Indeed, “congenial” is a good adjective for much of the Auber music on this CD: all of it is certainly worth hearing, all of it is well-made and is orchestrated with care and occasional panache, and none of it is particularly dramatic or intense. The disc offers a welcome dose of pleasantries, explored with care and enthusiasm and without a trace of any inappropriate portentousness.

     There are pleasantries as well on a new MSR Jazz recording bearing the title Twilight – a word that inadvertently also shows the limitations of this unassuming (+++) disc. The organizing principle here involves showcasing jazz works by female composers – a rather artificial approach, but one that is certainly in vogue nowadays. The disc’s title is taken from its first track, Twilight World by Marian McPartland – one of only three composers likely to be familiar to a wide swath of listeners (the others being Billie Holiday, represented by Fine and Mellow, and Carole King, creator of Go Away Little Girl and It’s Too Late). In fact, both the word “twilight” and the title of McPartland’s piece neatly encapsulate the mellow, laid-back, mostly quiet and rather static mood of all the music. This is a “mood” CD, some of it avowedly bluesy and the rest of it mighty close. Even when there is a bit of swing, as in Mike Kaupa’s handling of Close Your Eyes by Bernice Peskere, the underlying feeling is kept on the sedate side – in this specific case by Tom George’s handling of the piano part, in other cases by other means. The result is that all the works have an aura of sameness about them, including Put the Blame on Mame by Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts, What’s Your Story, Morning Glory by Mary Lou Williams, Them There Eyes by Doris Tauber (a work far better known than its composer), A Sunday Kind of Love by Barbara Belle, Fine and Dandy by Kay Swift, Learnin’ the Blues by Dolores “Vicki” Silvers, Candy by Joan Whitney, Good Morning Heartache by Irene Higginbotham, and Blessed Assurance by Phoebe P. Knapp. The CD is well-arranged both to accentuate the pieces’ mood and to provide what variety exists among the tracks: on the one hand, more-upbeat items tend to alternate with more avowedly placid ones, while on the other, some sequencing seems designed to keep the low-key feeling going – as when Go Away Little Girl is followed by It’s Too Late and Fine and Dandy comes right after Fine and Mellow. Nothing here really qualifies as a “find,” whatever the provenance of the music, although slow-jazz lovers will find plenty to enjoy both in the pieces and in the way Kaupa, George and Ric Vice handle them with relaxed smoothness and a sure sense of style. This is more-or-less what used to be called “mood music,” a disc more for background listening while doing other things or for winding down after a stressful day. Nothing on it is particularly captivating, but everything is suffused with a very pleasing crepuscular glow.

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