Pasatiempo - - PASA TEMPOS - — James M. Keller

Le désert (Naïve) Largely for­got­ten in the sweep of history is Féli­cien David, the semi-off­i­cal com­poser of the Saint-Si­mo­nian move­ment, which in early-19th-cen­tury France sought to bal­ance the march of in­dus­tri­al­ism with hu­man­is­tic spir­i­tu­al­ity. When the gov­ern­ment clamped down on the move­ment, in 1832, David em­barked on a search­ing trip to North Africa and the Mid­dle East. When he re­turned to France, he de­voted him­self to “singing of the East,” an im­pulse in sync with cur­rent French tastes for ex­oti­cism. The great­est suc­cess of his ca­reer came in 1844 with Le désert ,a “sym­phonic ode” for nar­ra­tor, tenor, men’s choir, and or­ches­tra. This cap­ti­vat­ing work os­ten­si­bly in­cor­po­rates melodies David en­coun­tered in Egypt, Syria, and else­where in his trip. It strikes a con­tem­pla­tive pose as it moves leisurely through three tableaux: a slowly ad­vanc­ing car­a­van, a noc­tur­nal en­camp­ment, and a desert sunrise. The tenor’s “Hymn à la nuit” seems a first cousin to por­tions of Ber­lioz’s Les nu­its d’éte, while other sec­tions look ahead to the lyri­cism of Gounod or Bizet. This miss­ing-link com­poser finds a firm cham­pion in con­duc­tor Lau­rence Equil­bey; her record­ings move from strength to strength. The Ac­cen­tus choir, the Paris Cham­ber Or­ches­tra, and tenors Cyrille Dubois and Zachary Wilder (shar­ing the solo part) pro­vide el­e­gant, id­iomatic per­for­mances, and the re­lease comes pack­aged with two al­most iden­ti­cal CDs — one with, the other with­out, Jean-Marie Win­ling’s poetic nar­ra­tion.

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