This is an auspicious beginning to what one hopes will be a series of recordings of French opera made with the forces of the Bastille under Chung. Without doubt this is the most subtly and expertly conducted performance of this work to appear on CD, excellent as others have been in this respect, and also the best played and sung. Chung's achievement is to have welded the elements of pagan ruthlessness, erotic stimulation and Wagnerian harmony that comprise Saint-Saens's masterpiece into a convincing whole.
In this saga of hatred and holy war, of power and desire, there is no victor and no truth. The god-like is diminished, power restricted, taboos are broken, love betrayed. Only the composer can afford uninterrupted pathos in the wonderful duet of Samson and Dalila in the second act, which misleads us to believe in a moving story of love. Perhaps it truly is. The story of Samson is contradictory, it is human. Camille Saint-Saëns completed the work in 1876, but was only able to bring about its first performance in 1877 through the mediation of his friend Franz Liszt with pre-eminent success in Weimar. In France, where the elements of oratorio and the influence of Wagner were not well received, the first performance would not follow for another 13 years. Samson et Dalila ranks among the masterpieces of 19th century French Opera - and among the showpieces favored by the Argentine tenor José Cura. In the recorded production he saw himself celebrated on stage as a unified three-in-one: eponymous hero, director and stage designer.
Olga Borodina sings the role of Dalila here too; her tone in the famous aria Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix is quite ravishing, and she is matched by an heroic performance from Plácido Domingo as Samson. James Levine has an expert grasp of the drama in this 1998 Elijah Moshinsky production from the Metropolitan Opera. There's also some luxury casting in the form of Sergei Leiferkus as Le Grand Prêtre de Dagon and René Pape as Le Vieillard Hébreu. (James Longstaffe)
The two sonatas for cello and piano by Camille Saint-Saëns stand as bookends to what was an impressively long compositional career spanning more than seven decades. Much of Saint-Saëns' music for cello, including these two sonatas, has been dismissed as inferior and is rarely performed or recorded. Only the first cello concerto, often played by advanced students of the instrument, remains a common occurrence on disc or stage.
When I first put this disc in the player, I wondered if I would really enjoy it. I had just listened to a performance of the Tchaikovsky played by Sviatoslav Richter accompanied by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Evgeny Mravinsky. Obviously, the first characteristic was a vast improvement in the recording quality over the mono Russian recording (Leningrad, 1957). As the new disc got underway I was very pleasantly surprised, as André Watts, although not Richter, gave a very proficient and exciting reading.
When the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich died in 2007, the world not only lost a great musician, but also a personality who had earned the honorary title "world citizen" with political commitment and commitment to humanitarian goals. He gave humanity a voice with his instrument - so in 1989 at the Berlin Wall. As an initiator of new works, as a pedagogue and conductor, he left clear traces in music history. In 2017, the great musician would have turned 90 years old. At the same time, his death is ten years back.
After a highly acclaimed recording of Briten’s Cello Symphony (ONYX4058) Pieter Wispelwey and the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiko Kim, turn to two romantic cello concertos whose neglect is hard to fathom. Lalo, unusually for a French composer in the mid 19th century, was drawn to chamber music, and formed a string quartet (in which he played viola, and later second violin) that championed the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. His passion for chamber music developed to embrace large scale orchestral works – two violin concertos, the famous 'Symphonie espagnole' for violin and orchestra, a symphony in G minor, the Piano Concerto and the concerto recorded here: the Cello concerto in D minor of 1877.