Spiritoso Classics' Benjamin Franklin's Musical World reproduces the musical portion of a touring show featuring the Philadelphia-based early music ensemble Philomel Baroque with justly famed soprano Julianne Baird. The program represents music that Franklin actually heard, knew, and probably played. We do not encounter the crystalline sound of the Glass Armonica here, and Benjamin Franklin's Musical World spares us the string quartet once attributed to Franklin, later to Ignace Pleyel, and then by some scholars back to Franklin again. Indeed, Benjamin Franklin's Musical World is representative more of Franklin's musical interests, rather than specific activities on his part; his musical "World" is understood from the point of view of his voluminous correspondence and reminiscences about him. Scottish music figures vary in such context, and the disc includes four compositions by Scottish composer James Oswald, including an amusing solo cantata, The Dustcart, which is a lighthearted parody of Italian cantatas then popular, such as those by Handel and Alessandro Scarlatti. This knife cuts both ways, as we also hear arrangements of Scots traditional tunes by Italian Francesco Geminiani. French music, known to him from his time in Paris, is represented by Duphly and Grétry. The rest of the program is basically English; Franklin's musical tastes, cultivated as much outside America as within, were somewhat broader than the mean in the colonies, where English music was "king" even if written by non-Englishmen such as Handel, Johann Christian Bach, or Jean-Baptiste Loeillet. Nevertheless, even with Franklin, the prevailing winds within England served to inflate his musical sails.
Julianne Baird sings very well, and the playing by Philomel Baroque is sensitive and true to the spirit of the music, particularly as it would have been played in America, largely in anonymous arrangements somewhat simplified by European standards. The one drawback is the recording, a little too distant and reverberant; in chamber music, closeness and intimacy are important in a recording -- the ear is more tolerant in a live context. At times, Julianne Baird can be heard moving off mike a little as well. However, over the years there have been several albums purporting to represent the musical lives of America's Founding Fathers, whether it is Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or others. In Spiritoso Classics' Benjamin Franklin's Musical World, Philomel Baroque and Julianne Baird do their homework and get it about as right as one could reasonably have it, and as a recording to support their touring program of this presentation the disc is more than adequate.