AUBER:  Johnny Bell Overture.  L'Enfant prodigue Overture. La Sirène Overture.  Vendóme en Espagne (Bolero, Air pour le second ballet).  Le Dieu et la bayadère (Overture, No. 5 Ballet). La Muette de Portici Ballet.  Le Premier Jour de bonheur Overture.
Gothenburg Opera Orch/B. Tommy Andersson, cond.

STERLING CDS 1039 (F) (DDD) TT:  64:25

Charming start to finish, led with genuine panache by a young Swedish conductor whose instructors included Jorma Panula (also the mentor of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mikko Frank, Osmo Vänskä, Petri Sakari, et al). The Gothenburg Opera Orchestra plays precisely, sonorously, with relish, and has been recorded bloomingly but not boomily. All of the music here uses ãcritical editions from autograph scoresä with uncommonly comprehensive annotation, although youâll have to search elsewhere for a biography of the composer.

Daniel François Esprit Auber (1782-1871) began his adult life as a commercial clerk who had his first success as a composer with an opéra comique in 1812. His masterpiece remains La muette de portici (a.k.a. Masaniello), premiered in 1828 -- one of four "serious" operas out of nearly 50 works for the lyric stage between 1805 and 1869. He wrote new ballet music for an 1861 Brussels production of La muette, which Petipa choreographed, and which Andersson includes here. Four works are "world premiere recordings," three more appear for the first time on CD.

The majority of Auber's operas were composed to librettos by the indefatigable Eugène Scribe. If his music lacks the saucy tunefulness of Offenbach's best (among the host of other contemporaries he outlived, including Meyerbeer and Berlioz), the best of it is impeccably written, ingeniously scored, and a pleasure to hear -- maybe not all 13 works recorded here at a single sitting, but a sprightly change from Dvorák and the Viennese Strausses when you feel an urge to lighten-up.

I would like sometime to hear one at least (i.e. the best) of four cello concertos he wrote for Lamarre (a single-name soloist, like Kennedy), who claimed them as his own, and the violin concerto he created for one Mazas. Auber was highly enough regarded to succeed Cherubini as director of the Paris Conservatoire in 1842, a post he occupied till his death at 89 during the Franco-Prussian war, and in 1857 was named imperial ma'tre de chapelle by Napoleon III.

In our digitized age it has remained for a Swedish label to honor Auber with a disc entirely of his music. Recommended to all listeners of "medium-light" delights.

R.D. (Aug. 2001)