The infinite cosmos of French organ music is Ben van Oosten’s realm, and he now has recorded the complete organ works of Camille Saint-Saëns in a sumptuous box set. He performs on the Cavaillé Coll organ in Ste. Madeleine in Paris, one of the most beautiful instruments of its kind and an organ with a big orchestral sound on which Saint-Saëns himself left his traces for more than two decades…
Saint-Saëns’s mature creative genius shines throughout these last two piano concertos, looking back over a glorious musical ancestry while at the same time opening the door to new worlds. The Fourth Piano Concerto is prescient of both his great Organ Symphony and the concertos of Rachmaninov, revealing Saint-Saëns at his most inspired and innovative. The Fifth was composed in the Egyptian temple town of Luxor, and displays a rich tapestry of exotic cultural influences from Javanese, Spanish and Middle Eastern music, as well as portrayals of chirping Nile crickets and croaking frogs, and the composer’s representation of ‘the joy of a sea crossing’.
The two string quartets of Camille Saint-Saëns are not among the deathless masterpieces in the genre, but they offer enough entertaining and agreeable music to be regarded as minor classics of chamber music. The String Quartet in E minor, Op. 112, and the String Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 153, share the craftsmanship, intellectual rigor, and tastefulness that are characteristic of Saint-Saëns' conservative style.
Among the virtuosity warhorses in the piano repertory, the five concertos by Camille Saint-Saens have established an appealing reputation. The audiences worldwide are enchanted to attend performances by great virtuosos in utterly melodious and harmonic works with dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics and musical ideas of the most refined quality. Yet, a very few of the professional pianists dare to approach this pianistic output by one of the most prolific and multifaceted artists of the European culture (composer, playwright, philosopher, astronomer, archaeologist, poet etc). To find the proper touch, to balance the wild virtuosity with the subtle musical concept, to get the deepest level of significance in these works – are all difficult tasks that require a high level of artistry (not only in pianistic terms).