Fils symphonies on CPO C

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

What are we to make of music by a composer who died at 27 because he had the “bizarre” idea of eating spiders and who had such a low estimation of his works that he used his manuscripts to kindle fires? Even though this sounds like the biographical blurb of a PDQ Bach wanna-be, in fact it is among the more hilarious highlights of Anton Fils’ short life. Fils (1733-60) was a cellist in the Mannheim Court Orchestra headed by Ignaz Holzbauer in the mid-18th century, and as a result of his pyrotechnic predilections the provenance of many of his works is in doubt. It is now thought that about 30 symphonies attributed to Fils are actually his, and five of them are presented here.

The works in question are decidedly the labor of a minor composer, suffused as they are with rudimentary counterpoint, the barest elements of melody, lurching, clumsy dynamics, awkward unconnected phrases, foursquare use of arpeggios and scales, swelling crescendo passages that lead inexorably (and endlessly) to quotidian climaxes, and cadences that seem to start before any thematic development.

Thankfully, Michi Gaigg and L’Orfeo Barockorchester make a case for this forgettable music with lively, attentive playing in excellent recorded sound. As with their recent traversal of works by Holzbauer (type Q1522 in Search Reviews), Wagenseil, and Aufschnaiter, this addendum to 18th century classical music provides some marginally useful context to understand the more substantial and interesting oeuvre of Mozart and Haydn and early Beethoven, among others.

Unlike with the group’s representative Holzbauer disc, you struggle to find any true innovation or compositional influence in these works beyond Fils’ partiality to flutes (as they appear prominently in the Andante of the E-flat symphony, in the lengthy passages of the A major, and in the solo in the trio of the D major’s Menuett). In short, think bad Haydn, or better, the source for Mozart’s “A Musical Joke”. Evidently, the composer might have thought so as well.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

ANTON FILS - Symphony in C major; Symphony in E-flat major; Symphony in G minor; Symphony in D major; Symphony in A major

  • CPO - 999 778-2
  • CD

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