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 acclaimed Fidelio Trio make their Resonus debut with an exquisite recording of French piano trios – Camille Saint-Saëns’ large-scale Op. 92 second trio, and Maurice Ravel’s sole foray into the genre dating from 1914. Coming off the back of a Royal Philharmonic Society Award nomination in 2016, this recording sees the trio expand on their unparalleled reputation for new music, demonstrating the vast range of this brilliant chamber group’s abilities and talent.
Saint-Saens’s Etudes offer an intricate and scintillating panoply of the French school of technique (the basis and prophecy of what Jean-Philippe Collard so mischievously called Marguerite Long’s ‘diggy-diggy-dee’ school of piano playing). Yet as Piers Lane tells us in his alternately wry and delightful accompanying essay (obligatory reading for all lovers of French pianism), they can be as evocative (‘Les cloches de las Palmas’) as they are finger-twisting (‘En forme de valse’, to name but one). The left-hand Etudes, too, given their self-imposed limitation, are a fragile and poetic surprise. In other words Saint-Saens’s Etudes are more comprehensive than their equivalents by, say, Moszkowski or Lazare Levey (superbly recorded by Ilana Vered on Connoisseur Society and Danielle Laval on French EMI, respectively – neither issued in the UK).
Recorded in London’s Henry Wood Hall in November 1977, these two performances offer a special reminder of the magic of Mstislav Rostropovich. If ever one needs to relive the pure magic of music, that elusive quality that operates above and beyond all words, it is to Rostropovich that one can confidently turn; especially when he is in partnership with another “great”—here, Giulini.
Unusually the liner note deserves a mention ahead of the music: the fine pianist Jeremy Denk, half of this regular duo, manages to encapsulate the elusiveness of French romantic music with such insight in a few sharp sentences, his words almost shape the way we listen to this superbly played disc. Saint-Saëns' wistful and emotional Sonata No 1 and Ravel's bluesy, ironic sonata have a whipped, airy quality. Joshua Bell plays with fire and finesse, with Denk a powerful ally. Franck's dark-light violin sonata, mysterious, ardent and far more than the sum of its parts when played as majestically as here, forms the centrepiece of this seriously beguiling disc.
Daniel Barenboim, the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Jacqueline du Pre deliver lush interpretations of these cello concertos by Schumann and Saint-Saens. The musicians display finesse and delicacy. These are the definitive performances, absolutely a must-own.