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Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de SAINT-GEORGES (1745-1799)
Symphonies concertantes, Op.9 (pub.1777)
No.1 in C Major [13.03]
No. 2 In A Major [14.50]
Symphonies concertantes, Op.10 (pub.1777)
No.1 in F Major [10.39]
No. 2 In A Major [13.33]
Symphony in G major, Op.11, No.1 (pub 1779) [12.28]
Yuri Revich, Libor Ježek (violin)
Pavla Honsová (viola)
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Michael Halász
rec. The House of Music Pardubice, Czech Republic, 29 September-2 October 2020
NAXOS 8.574306 [64.56]

Over-enthusiasm for a person sometimes can be a detriment to his cause. The claim, in the otherwise admirable notes, that Saint-Georges, ‘a brilliant swordsman, athlete, violin virtuoso and gifted composer … might well lay claim to be the most talented figure in an age of remarkable individuals’ is arguably difficult to sustain against contemporary figures such as Goethe, Franklin, Voltaire, Johnson and Hume, to say nothing of Haydn and Mozart. The appropriate description of his skills as composer is ‘gifted’ – his works, as represented on this CD, all in major keys, plunge into no great emotional or spiritual depths, but are charming and highly enjoyable, especially in performances as spirited and committed as those here.

His life might be turned (probably with some embellishment) into a dashing piece of romantic adventure. His father had been a councillor in the Metz parlement, his mother apparently a beautiful Senegalese slave, and Saint-Georges was himself born in Guadaloupe. The family moved to Paris when he was 13, and he trained in fencing and riding. There is some lack of clarity about his musical training, but as with the other two disciplines, it was with the masters of their craft – in 1773, he succeeded Gossec as musical director and leader of the Amateurs, then one of the best orchestras in France. After some time in England, he became a captain in the National Guard (1792), where he attempted to create a corps of coloured light troops. This was unsuccessful, he was relieved of his command, imprisoned for 18 months, and then led a nomadic life until his death in Paris.

For all the melodic inventiveness, deft orchestration and charm, Saint-Georges must be seen as essentially a conservative composer, making fine use of the conventions of his time, but not pressing further in form. The four Symphonies Concertante each have two movements, a longer opening allegro, followed by a briefer rondeau, except Op.10, No. 1, which has two allegros, of equal length. The three-movement symphony consists of three brief movements, allegro-andante-allegro assai, and is charming rather than ground-breaking.

For all that, performances are joyous and enthusiastic, revealing commitment to this music. The CD has a double value – as an opening to a significant part of the classical period, but also as straightforward charm. Most enjoyable.

Michael Wilkinson

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