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David Denton
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.

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