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A contemporary of Berlioz, David is little known outside his native France. Abandoning his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, in 1831 he journeyed to Algeria and Egypt, only returning to his homeland four years later with the intention of ‘singing of the East’ in the music he composed for the Parisian public. David’s ode-symphony Le désert dates from the mid-1840s and represents the peak of his achievements. An experimental work, its novel genre owes much to Berlioz’s example in, for example, Roméo et Juliette, and Berlioz was one of those who gave David’s work – part-symphony, part-oratorio – an enthusiastic welcome. On the evidence of this recording, it is a work not merely of charm but rather a forgotten French masterpiece of the 19th-century orientalist strand. Equilbey draws expressive playing from her excellent Parisian forces, and the soloists are idiomatic. Naïve sensibly offers us David’s second version with spoken narration on a second disc.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica

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