Philidor: Carmen Saeculare; Overtures

Philidor: Carmen Saeculare; Overtures

by Christian Benda
     
 

Like Chevalier de Saint-Georges, François-André Danican Philidor gained fame both as a composer and a sportsman. In addition to his facility as a composer of opera and as a pioneer in the field of opéra-comique, Philidor was the most famous chess master of his era, celebrated for his ability to win games whileSee more details below

Overview

Like Chevalier de Saint-Georges, François-André Danican Philidor gained fame both as a composer and a sportsman. In addition to his facility as a composer of opera and as a pioneer in the field of opéra-comique, Philidor was the most famous chess master of his era, celebrated for his ability to win games while blindfolded. While this has kept Philidor's great chess playing manual Analyse du jeu des échecs in print for more than two and a half centuries, very little of his music has been recorded. This is due to the fact that, outside of his operas, not much of it survives -- not a single one of his sacred compositions has come down to us, and his set of six quartets, "L'art de la modulation" (1755), appears to be Philidor's only contribution to instrumental music. Nevertheless, this Naxos issue of Philidor's big secular oratorio "Carmen Saeculare" is the second recording made of this work, and it is interesting to note that the same conductor, noted early music specialist Jean-Claude Malgoire, leads both recordings. As the first one was made for the "Musifrance" imprint belonging to the long-gone French Erato label, Malgoire is in little danger of competing with himself in this work; he was probably happy to have a second chance at it, this time with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, its chorus, and four vocal soloists. As the work runs a little over single-CD length, Naxos has stretched it out by adding three of Philidor's overtures with the Prague Chamber Orchestra under Christian Benda. Of the three overtures included, "Le sorcier" is the most effective; Philidor introduces a half-time fragment of a rhythmic idea drawn from the opening figure and includes it within the main theme; a highly unusual and arresting effect. "Carmen Saeculare" contains many interesting musical features despite its hopelessly pompous libretto, compiled from Odes of Horace by Italian critic, literary gadfly, and murder suspect Giuseppe Baretti. Ostensibly, "Carmen Saeculare" is about an assembly in ancient times to venerate an Olympics-styled ceremony lasting three days; however, the text winds up being a laundry list of invocations to various Greek and Roman gods, celebrating their sometimes rather bloodthirsty deeds. Thanks to Philidor's music, such unpromising material does wind up being rather dramatically satisfying, but all of that excitement comes from the music, not the tale told. Philidor makes wonderful use of musical text painting, evoking the sunrise in an effective bass solo invoking Apollo, and there is a sneaky, mysterious minor-key set piece between soloists and chorus in the second part that evokes masked marauders in late-night, seventeenth century London streets -- the kind of predator that Baretti is said to have killed in defending himself. The recordings of Philidor's overtures, conducted by Benda, are crisp, up front, and very clear. "Carmen Saeculare," being an older recording (from 1998), is a little less focused and more distant, but adequate. Musically, there is nothing in Philidor that is comparable to Mozart or Haydn; though the string parts are appropriately galant in slow movements and brisk in fast movements, the handling of winds is reminiscent of Handel -- stylistically Philidor is what Rameau may have sounded like if he had composed Classical music instead of in a Baroque style. As such, Philidor represents an earlier generation of musician than that exemplified by the First Viennese School. If such rare, exploratory, and unfamiliar Classical era music is of appeal to you, then Naxos' Philidor: Carmen Saeculare is definitely something to investigate.

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Product Details

Release Date:
03/27/2007
Label:
Naxos
UPC:
0747313259328
catalogNumber:
8557593
Rank:
329112

Tracks

  1. Simphonie No. 27 in G major (Ouverture: Le maréchal ferrant)  - François-André Danican Philidor  - Christian Benda  -  Prague Chamber Orchestra
  2. Carmen Saeculare, secular oratorio  - François-André Danican Philidor  - Antonio Abete  - Veronica Cangemi  - Donald Litaker  - Jean-Claude Malgoire  -  Swiss Radio Choir  -  Swiss-Italian Radio Orchestra  - Nora Gubisch
  3. Le sorcier, Overture: Ouverture  - François-André Danican Philidor  - Christian Benda  -  Prague Chamber Orchestra
  4. Tom Jones, opera: Ouverture  - François-André Danican Philidor  - Christian Benda  -  Prague Chamber Orchestra

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