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Pierre Danican PHILIDOR (1681 - 1731): "Suites for Flute and B.C."

Musica ad Rhenum

rec: Feb 8 - 9 & July 2019, Velp (NL), Emmausklooster
Brilliant Classics - 96032 (2 CDs) (© 2021) (1.50'25")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Première Suite in g minora [1]; Deuxième Suite in Ga [1]; Troisième Suite in Da [1]; Quatrième Suite in a minorbc [1]; Cinquième Suite in e minorbc [1]; Sixième Suite in b minorbc [1]; Septième Suite in b minora [2]; Huitième Suite in a minora [2]; Neuvième Suite in e minorbc [2]; Dixième Suite in g minorbc [2]; Onzième Suite in e minora [3]; Douzième Suite in Dbc [3]

Sources: [1] Trois suittes à deux flûtes traversières seules avec 3 autres suites dessus et basses pour les hautbois, flûtes et violons, op. 1, 1717; [2] Deuxième œuvre contenant deux suites à deux flûtes traversières seules avec deux autres suites dessus et basse pour les hautbois, flûtes, violons, etc., 1718; [3] Troisième œuvre contenant une suite à deux flûtes traversières seules et une autre suite dessus et basse pour les hautbois, flûtes, violons, etc., Avec une Réduction de la Chaße, 1718

Jed Wentz, Marion Moonena, transverse flute; Cassandra Luckhardt, viola da gambab; Michael Borgstede, harpsichord c

Pierre Danican Philidor was a member of one of the three largest musical dynasties of the French Baroque. The other two were the Hotteterres and the Couperins. The article on the Philidor family in New Grove mentions five composers but these are only the better-known members of this dynasty. The earliest musician in the family whom we know about was Michel Danican - as the family's original name was - who played the oboe at the court of Louis XIII. His two sons, Michel and Jean, were members of the Grande Écurie, one of the royal music ensembles. It was Jean who was the first to be referred to with the name 'Philidor'. One of the best-known members of the family is Jean's son André Danican Philidor 'le père'. In his capacity as music librarian of Louis XIV he copied numerous compositions which were part of the repertoire of the court's ensembles (the so-called Philidor-collection). He was married twice, and got 23 children, some of whom became musicians as well. Pierre Danican Philidor, to whom this disc is devoted, was his nephew, a son of his older brother Jacques Danican Philidor 'le cadet'.

Pierre started composing at an early age, and took over his father's position as oboist of the Grands Hautbois. Later on he became a member of the chambre du roy where Marin Marais and François Couperin were among his colleagues. There is some confusion about Philidor's role in the chambre du roy. He was referred to as joueur de viole (player of the viol). The authors in New Grove take this for granted as they say "he became a member of the chambre du roi as a viol player". Jed Wentz, in his liner-notes to the disc under review here, apparently copied this information from New Grove. However, Antoine Torunczyk, in his liner-notes to a recording of some of Philidor's suites on oboe (ZigZag Territoires, 2008) writes: "Faced with a viol, Pierre would very likely have looked for somewhere to blow into". He states that the post of oboist of the chambre du roy did not exist, and that the title of 'player of the viol' doesn't mean he actually played the instrument - it's just a formal title. This is in line with all we know about the Philidor family: they were a dynasty of wind players.

Philidor's extant oeuvre is rather small. Apart from some pieces for the stage it comprises eighteen chamber music works: the twelve suites recorded by Musica ad Rhenum and six suites for three instruments - flutes, oboes or violins - without accompaniment. The suites which are the subject of the present production were published in 1717 and 1718 as the Opp. 1 to 3. The Op. 1 includes six suites, Op. 2 four and Op. 3 two. The twelve suites are equally divided between those for transverse flute and basso continuo and those for two flutes without accompaniment.

In a short essay in the booklet to the above-mentioned disc, the American oboist Bruce Haynes presents Pierre Danican Philidor as one of the last representatives of the aesthetics of the era of the Sun King. Jed Wentz agrees: "[For] me, [these suites] form the pinnacle of music composed in France for the flute before the appearance, a decade later in the late 1720s, of Italianized works by virtuosos like Michel Blavet and Jean-Daniel Braun." He compares them favourably to the flute compositions of Philidor's contemporaries Jean-Martin Hotteterre, Michel de La Barre and Michel Pignolet de Montéclair.

The suites have some specific features which make them stand out. Philidor included detailed notation of ornaments, such as the application of vibrato (flattement). At one point he even indicates the possibilities of taking rhythmic liberties. "[That] is to say, he notates what many today would call rubato". Wentz suggests that in particular the duets may have been intended as pedagogical material. That may be confirmed by the fact that they include quite some fugues and canons (indicated with en contrefaiseurs). "This preference for 'learned' contrapuntal writing, unusual for the time, could once again point towards a didactic intention, as the imitative writing would facilitate, nay even dictate, an imitative performance: the pupil could easily model her or his playing on that of the master".

The suites are of different length and complexion. The number of movements varies from four to six. Most of them refer to dances, oft with an additional tempo or character indication, such as allemande: lentement or sarabande: très proprement. As mentioned there are a number of fugues, and there are quite some movements in the form of a rondeau, which was to become increasingly popular in the course of time. Probably a little surprising is that there are only two chaconnes. The Quatrième Suite ends with a movement called paysanne, with the addition gayment, which has some unmistakable folkloristic traits. The same suite includes an air en musette, which refers to an instrument associated with the coutryside, depicted here with a drone. The Troisième Suite opens with an expressive movement with the indication lentement.

These twelve suites are excellent stuff, apparently very nice to play, but also entertaining for the listener. That is due to Philidor, but also to the performers. Wentz has taken the composer's indications to heart and uses them to apply them in a creative manner, which he characterises as "combining rigour and inspiration". It has resulted in a compelling recording that may not only appeal to whose who are particularly fond of the transverse flute, but to any lover of baroque chamber music.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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