Notes and Editorial Reviews
German composer, organist and music theorist, Justin Heinrich Knecht was a teacher, church musician and man of the theatre. All of these qualities can be heard in his magnificent Le Portrait musical de la Nature – Grande Symphonie, written in 1785. A work which was much admired and anticipates the structure of Beethoven’s beloved Pastoral Symphony (written 24 years later), this focuses on nature. This ranges from microscopic petals and the flutter of the tiniest feathers to the most menacing storms.
The Knecht begins with the sun shining in a pastoral setting: a waterfall tumbles from the mountain-top, a shepherd pipes and sheep gambol. The closing section of the first movement is crisp and clearly punctuated having earlier
evoked wondering zephyrs. We then move to a slower, willowy second movement. The third movement offers a more dynamic torrent of life. Black clouds enter and a storm rages. At this point the double bass section of the orchestra Filarmonica di Torino sound particularly accomplished. As the clouds disperse, trilling violins evoke twittering birds. The gentle swathes of the woodwind (particularly the flautists) and a light-hearted violin solo remind us of the opening movement. In the fifth and final movement, pleasant songs rejoice in the passing of the storm and evoke glimmers of light as seen dappled through the trees. Resounding in a jubilant chorus and hymn of thanksgiving, the symphony ends in resounding bliss and grace.
The second half of this CD transports us from Germany to France, as we are graced by François-André Danican Philidor’s overtures. As a boy Philidor was a chorister in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles where he was taught by Campra, the maître de chapelle. When his voice broke, he left the chapel to earn a living by teaching and serving as a copyist. A keen chess player who enjoyed competing with Voltaire and Rousseau — he earned a living by teaching chess when in the Netherlands — Philidor’s return to music was prompted by Diderot. This was signposted by his return from England to France in 1754 where he was then encouraged by Rameau who suggested that he compose for theatre. On this CD we celebrate Philidor’s majestic zeal for depicting character with humanism and humour. There is also a strong storytelling element to be heard in these overtures.
Spliced between two Allegros, the second movement of Philidor’s overture to Le Jardinier et Son Seigneur, played in the tonic minor key, is particularly arresting and is played most passionately by the string section of the Prague Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Christian Benda. Le Sorcier has a story about a soldier (Julien) who has to part from his love (Agathe) and returns as a sorcerer in order to deceive her mother (who wants to marry Agathe off to another man) and win Agathe’s love. This is played in a fittingly sprightly and pithy style.
Never over-sentimentalised, Benda retains the style of Fielding’s novel Tom Jones when conducting Philidor’s overture to his opera by the same name. In the repeated sections, the secrecy and love between Tom and Sophia, and the villainy of Blifil are all reflected. Ultimately, the narrator’s voice can be found in this overture, ending with a musical assertion which seems to be lifted directly from Book XVIII of Fielding’s novel: ‘Whatever in the nature of Jones had a tendency to vice, has been corrected by continual conversation with this good man, and by his union with the lovely and virtuous Sophia. He hath also, by reflection on his past follies, acquired a discretion and prudence very uncommon in one of his lively parts.’
Finishing with the overture to Le Marechal-Ferrant (The Blacksmith), which is a comic opera based on an episode from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, the Prague Sinfonia sound ever energised and alive with complementary textures. Preluding a village farce that involves two young couples, a sleeping potion and mistaken identities, the overture is suitably intriguing. It is split into three movements: a form suggestive of an Italian sinfonia whilst French folkloric elements characteristic of the vaudevilles can also be discerned. The eighteenth century French dramatist Charles Simon Favart praised this aspect of Philidor’s composition, saying: ‘Our musical savants claim that Philidor has stolen from Italians. What does it matter, if he enriches our nation with the beautiful things of foreign lands which we should perhaps never have known without him?’
In its combination of German and French compositions from the mid-eighteenth century, this CD would delight any listener. Knecht’s skill in depicting a pastoral vision and Philidor’s uncanny gift for conveying gesture and anticipation are memorable. With such a high quality recording and two renowned orchestras, these two worlds come alive, imbued with esprit and resilience.
-- Lucy Jeffery, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Le Portrait musical de la Nature ou Grande Symphonie by Justin Heinrich Knecht
Turin Philharmonic Orchestra
Tom Jones: Overture by François-André Danican Philidor
Written: by 1765; Paris, France
Le sorcier: Overture by François-André Danican Philidor
Written: by 1764
Le maréchal ferrant: Overture by François-André Danican Philidor
Written: by 1761
Le jardinier et son seigneur: Overture by André Danican Philidor
Le portrait musical de la nature: I. Une belle contree ou le soleil luit -
Le portrait musical de la nature: II. Le ciel commence a devenir soudain sombre -
Le portrait musical de la nature: III. L'orage accompagne des vents -
Le portrait musical de la nature: IV. L'orage s'appaise peu a peu -
Le portrait musical de la nature: V. La nature transportee de la joie
Le jardinier et son seigneur: Overture: I. Allegro
Le jardinier et son seigneur: Overture: II. Andante
Le jardinier et son seigneur: Overture: III. Allegro
Le marechal ferrant: Overture, "Symphony No. 27 in G Major": I. Allegro
Le marechal ferrant: Overture, "Symphony No. 27 in G Major": II. Andante con spirito
Le marechal ferrant: Overture, "Symphony No. 27 in G Major": III. Presto
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
18th Century Change of Pace July 11, 2014
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"Here is a disk of very pleasant 18th century music that probably won't bring a smile of instant recognition to anyone less than a music historian with an intense academic background. German composer Justin Heinrich Knecht's 5 movement Musical Portrait of Nature dates from 1785, so the obvious question is whether or not this had any influence on Beethoven's subsequent Pastoral Symphony. Given the light texture of Knecht's work, which has a violin solo for several extended passages, one would have to doubt any major connection. Nevertheless, there is a congenial, 'pastoral' feel to this work, which is nicely played by the Turin Philharmonic Orchestra. As for the rest of the disk, we have four overtures for stage works by French composer Francois-Andre Philidor, and these date from the 1760's, or very early in the Classical Era. Played by the Prague Sinfonia, Philidor's music emphasizes the lightness of touch (similar to Knecht) that a chamber orchestra can express so well. Of particular interest, Philidor's overtures are quite lengthy, ranging from 7 to over 12 minutes duration. Furthermore, two of these overtures have 3 sections, each requiring 3 separate CD tracks, which struck me as somewhat unusual construction. No matter- all are sprightly and full of great melody and good cheer. In summary, this nice disk provides some refreshing smaller scale, relatively unsophisticated 18th century compositions which should be of interest to any classical music fan."
The original predecessor to Beethoven's Pastoral April 14, 2014
By ben cutler (somerville, NJ) See All My Reviews
"At last the historic predecessor of Beethovens Pastoral Symphony, Le Portrait Musical De La Nature by Justin Heinrich Knecht written in 1785. For years Ive wondered what this piece might sound like. Both the year of composition and the fact that Beethoven was moved to do the same thing and still call it a symphony would lead one to believe that the style and sound of this symphony would be early classical a la Haydn. Not so!!! It is profoundly late Baroque in style and sound. What makes it unique is that the music is lavishly filled out with sub-melodies and detail to illustrate the sounds of nature. It is also a considerable work in its 29 minutes of music. Like Beethoven it has 5 movements; the first and last are the same as the corresponding movements in Beethoven. The middle three all have to do with the storm, the first and last of these three being the approach of the storm and its gradual departure. And the storm itself is quite different from Beethovens heavy reliance on timpani. Thunder is often represented by scrambling bass viols to great effect and wind and lightning mostly by skirling strings, also to surprisingly good effect. The first movement is quite beautiful in its nature depictions. While a stylistic influence on Beethoven is nonexistent there are melodic passages which clearly were in Beethovens ear when he wrote his own walk in the country. So, while not a masterpiece, it is definitely worth getting to know. And, in my experience at least, it is unique among late baroque compositions in both its length and intensity of expression. The disk is filled out by four early overtures of a composer often mentioned in texts but whose music is rarely heard, Francois-Andre Danican Philador. This music is quite fascinating, besides being quite good. Stylistically his music sounds most of all like a KPE Bach in its melodic expressiveness and a succinctness that is characteristic also of Rameau, his predecessor. Even though two of these overtures are in the older Italian Style his sound often resembles early Haydn as well. Well, if 1760-5 is too early for Haydns influence, KPE Bachs clavichord sonatas were already well known across much of Europe by then. In the near future Mehul and Cherubini would be influenced by the vivid music of this composer now known only in textbooks. A fascinating disc and long overdue."