David's Review Corner
, March 2007
Sometimes I approach Baroque music without a great deal of
enthusiasm, but here I have enjoyed every minute, and fervently commend this
release from a famous composer little known today. Francois-Andre Danican Philidor
was born in France in 1726 and into a family of musicians who had worked for
the royal family since 1650, his father both a distinguished orchestral musician
and composer. Somewhere in the distant past his roots were in Scotland, and
it was in England that Francois-Andre spent much of his life. He too was to
serve in the field of royal musicians and would have enjoyed a highly distinguished
career had it not been for the fact that he was also a master chess player of
such eminence that even today his name is still known among chess enthusiasts.
As a composer he enjoyed mixed fortunes until in his early thirties when he
turned his attention to Opera Comique, and it was in this genre that he largely
created his reputation in France. It was in London that Philidor was approached
to write a work on poems by Horace published under the title Carmen saeculare.
The result was a fusion of oratorio and opera. The story - very much a non-event
- is set in Roman times and associated with the centennial celebrations of 17
BC. Whatever the weakness of the story, it drew extremely pleasing music set
as a series of arias, ensembles and choruses with an orchestrated backdrop that
makes Bach - who was living at the same time - sound distinctly old-fashioned.
As a coupling we have the spirited overtures to three of the composer's comic
operas. The performance of Carmen saeculare comes from the Italian
Swiss Radio, and though it employs a modern instrument orchestra, it is in the
highly experienced hands of Jean-Claude Malgoire. The singing is excellent,
the voices falling pleasantly on the ear, and when we move to Prague for the
overtures we are also meet with playing of the highest quality. Maybe I expected
the overtures to be more light-hearted, but they are quite serious and could
well have been written by Mozart - though he had only just been born. Sound
quality is impeccable.