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Justin Heinrich KNECHT (1752-1817)
Le Portrait musical de la Nature - Grande Simphonie (1785) [28:09]
François-André Danican PHILIDOR (1726-1795)
Le Jardinier et Son Seigneur - Ouverture (1761) [11:40]
Le Sorcier - Ouverture (1764) [8:14]
Tom Jones - Ouverture (1765) [7:19]
Le Maréchal-Ferrant - Ouverture (1761) [12:05]
Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino/Christian Benda
Sergio Lamberto (solo violin)
Prague Sinfonia Orchestra/Christian Benda
rec. Sala Concerti del Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi, Torino, Italy, 15 January 2013 (Knecht); Studio Domovina, Prague, Czech Republic, 17 March 2012
NAXOS 8.573066 [67:27]

Whatever else, you cannot criticise Naxos for lacking valour when it comes to reviving entrenched and almost lost rarities. Here is a ‘pictorial’ symphony by a German composer who was broadly contemporary with Beethoven. Add to this four overtures by a brilliant Frenchman who was also a master of chess. So, is rarity the only thing to unite these two composers from successive generations? Pretty much.
 
There is no doubting that the Knecht symphony is a gracious piece and one that gives off a Mozartean glow. This is intensified by an extremely warm and radiant acoustic closely recorded. This five movement half hour symphony dating from 1785 has titled movements with each signalling the progress of an idyllic day in the countryside. It comes complete with sun, storms, beatific livestock and a final hymn of thanksgiving. The music is quite gripping with louring Schubertian tension and some leaping playing that looks forward, in the third movement, to Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies. The finale basks in Olympian light. The romantic solo for the leader does creak a little in movement 5 and the up-close balance does little to hide this. As Keith Anderson's note reports, Knecht's Grande Simphonie predates Beethoven's Pastoral by about a quarter of a century but its fanciful ‘floor plan’ is comparable with that of the Beethoven work.
 
We should remind ourselves that the Knecht has been recorded before. The Carus disc reviewed by Jonathan Woolf is an all-Knecht affair.
 
Then we shift recording venue from Turin to Prague for the four Philidor overtures. It’s an exchange of one very resonant and fruity acoustic for another. The first overture - Le Jardinier et Son Seigneur - is in the three movement form of an Italian sinfonia. Two lithe and chugging Mozartean movements frame a peaceful Andante. The finale raises recollections of the finales of Mozart's horn concertos 3 and 4. The two central overtures are single movement affairs. Le Sorcier and Tom Jones serve up genially flighted, bustling and ingratiating material cut from the same bale. Back to the three movement sinfonia format for Le Marechal-Ferrant which again spins material from the same source. This time some of Haydn's influence is in evidence along the way.
 
These Philidor works are all attractive music reminiscent of Hummel and early Weber. Everything is smilingly done with plenty of alertly dancing and jocose energy. The Andante has an imperial bearing but is still akin in character to the Andante of Le Jardinier.
 
Philidor has had a place in the Naxos catalogue before. He shouldered in with no less than a double CD set which also included three of the four overtures. Again Benda presided but on that occasion with the Prague Chamber Orchestra.
 
This is not all-conquering music but it is very pleasant and with more than a few flashes of freshness. If you enjoy tracking the contemporaries of Mozart and Beethoven do not pass up this opportunity. Not as good as the Méhul symphonies but entertaining enough.
 
Rob Barnett