Danican Philidor: Six Parisian Quartets

L’Art de la modulation
Ars Antiqua with Elizabeth Wallfisch
65:07
Nimbus Alliance NI 6347

These six delightful “Quatuors pour un Hautboy, 2 Violons, et Basse” were published in 1755. Gambist Mark Kramer’s notes say relatively little of the music (in all honesty, there is not much he could have said, since these are the composer’s only surviving chamber works) but they do a marvellous job of setting the scene, describing the transition of taste and artistic and musical styles as the strict order of Louis XIV’s France gave way to the Age of Enlightenment. Philidor was better known in his own day as a master chess player, capable of playing three games simultaneously while blindfolded; thus, writing music in four parts in ever-varying combinations was no complex task for him. These are enjoyable pieces, very nicely played, but they are less contrapuntally complex than Telemann’s of three decades earlier, and – in terms of the rococo filigree that Kramer highlights – they scarcely rival the many quartets produced by Janitsch, his Berlin-based contemporary. Ars Antiqua perform sinfonie  3, 4 and 6 with flute instead of oboe. Their inclusion of a harp is probably justified on the basis of the instrument’s popularity in French music tooms of the period, and I suppose the original gamba player might have read over the keyboard player’s shoulder. Yes, these are quartets for six! And thoroughly entertaining they are, too.

Brian Clark