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.
The essence of Camille Saint-Saëns' music comes through perhaps most clearly in his music for solo instrument and orchestra, which exemplifies his elegant combination of melody and conservatory-generated virtuosity. The two cello concertos are here, plus a pair of crowd-pleasing short works for piano and orchestra, and the evergreen Carnival of the Animals, with pianists Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier joining forces along with a collection of instruments that includes the often-omitted glass harmonica. There are all kinds of attractions here: the gently humorous and not over-broad Carnival, the songful cello playing of Truls Mørk, and the little-known piano-and-orchestra scene Africa, Op. 89, with its lightly Tunisian flavor (sample this final track). But really, the central thread connecting them all is the conducting of Neeme Järvi and the light, graceful work of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; French music is the nearly 80-year-old Järvi's most congenial environment, and in this recording, perhaps his last devoted to Saint-Saëns, he has never been better.
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.
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.
This generous double disc survey of Saint-Saens' chamber music offers the listener over two hours of unalloyed pleasure and contains a judicious selection of works for various ensembles that range across his career - indeed the three sonatas for bassoon, clarinet and oboe respectively are very late pieces and were part of an intended series of such works for each member of the standard woodwind family, a project only curtailed by the composer's death in 1921.