Beethoven • Méhul
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Méhul: Symphony No. 1
Solistes Européens Luxembourg/Christopher König
Beethoven didn’t write music in a vacuum. Much is made of how influential he has been to almost every composer who followed, but it has been harder to find explorations of the music and composers he was shaped by himself. One of those was Etienne-Nicolas Méhul, seven years older than Beethoven, and a composer of music that was widely felt to encapsulate the spirit of the French Revolution.
What this CD doesn’t demonstrate is that Méhul’s music influenced Beethoven’s. Méhul’s Symphony No. 1 was written in 1808 – three years after the public premiere of the Eroica, which is the more forward-looking symphony by a long way. And yet the Méhul is a strong work, well worth hearing more than once. It opens with the kind of bold G minor statement Beethoven loved, which melts into an almost skittish major-key second theme. The slow movement combines stillness on one level with irresistible forward motion on another, not unlike the corresponding movement of Beethoven’s Fifth – premiered in the same year – and before the stormy finale there’s a scherzo that ends with a forthright horn seesawing in a closing gesture that’s repeated over and over, in truly Beethovenian fashion.
Christoph König and his Solistes Européens bring the Méhul persuasively to life. A similar approach – raw but with just enough subtlety – infuses their performance of the Eroica, which has a winning energy and the odd rough edge. The spacious acoustic of the Philharmonie Luxembourg makes the louder passages sound rather boomy.