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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Precocious as a child, Camille Saint-Saëns was once known as the French Mendelssohn. The remarkably assured First Symphony, completed at the age of 17, was praised by Berlioz and Gounod at its first performance. The elegantly crafted Second Symphony defies convention not least by basing the first movement on a fugue, while the symphonic poem Phaéton skilfully brings this Greek mythological drama to life with stampeding horses, thunderbolts and a moving apotheosis. This is Volume 1 of 3 devoted to the five Saint-Saëns Symphonies.
Arthur Rubinstein had performed Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 many times throughout his concert career; in fact, this was one of the pieces on the program of his first public concert given in 1900. The style in which he plays it is simply captivating. It's not a serious concerto in the German-school, but rather a light-hearted and somewhat amusing concerto. This is probably the most famous recording of the composition, and it's no wonder why. The Symphonic Variations of Cesar Franck are fantastic, full of energy, vitality and French-Romantic beauty.