> Camille Saint-Saens - The 5 Piano Concertos [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No.1 in D Major, Op. 17 (1858)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G Minor, Op. 22 (1868)
Piano Concerto No.3 in E-flat Major, Op. 29 (1869)
Piano Concerto No.4 in C Minor, Op. 44 (1875)
Piano Concerto No.5 in F Major, Op. 103 (1896)
Philippe Entremont (piano)
L’Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
No recording details ADD
SONY ESSENTIAL CLASSICS SB2K89977 [2CDs: 64.46 : 70.26]


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And still they come! It’s not long ago that I reviewed a Brilliant Classics bargain box of these delectable works, and at the time I said it was entering a very crowded field, and would have to be very special (which it wasn’t) to make any impact on the benchmark versions. These are, should you need reminding, the marvellous Hyperion set from Stephen Hough and Sakari Oramo, which also finds room for extra items; the Collard/Previn bargain double on EMI, and Rogé/Dutoit on Decca, another two-for-one that offers brilliantly idiomatic playing and excellent recording quality. There is also a bargain ASV set from Angela Brownridge which I haven’t heard, but which has received reasonable praise and is in modern sound.

Sad to say, much as I admire the artists on this new budget re-issue from Sony Classical, I cannot find enough positive things throughout the set to recommend it over the rivals. For a start, it suffers from a brightly lit and oddly balanced recording. Although Sony give us no details of age or venue, the amount of tape hiss at the start tends to suggest an analogue source. This needn’t be a bad thing, of course, but with such a forward balance, and spotlighting of various instruments, it soon becomes tiresome. Entremont can sometimes be an aggressively muscular player, which suits some music, but here it simply sounds unnecessarily harsh. Add to that a piano that is very brightly voiced, out of tune in places, and sounding far too close for comfort, and the results are not pretty. The virtuosity in these works needs to sound effortless, and in places I felt Entremont was struggling slightly with his technique. The delectable scherzando second movement from the famous G Minor Concerto, shows some uneven scale passages, and where one should have throwaway bravura (as with the others), here things sound a little laboured. The gorgeous slow movement from the D Major Concerto (No.1) is spoilt, for me, by lumpy phrasing in the piano’s triplet interpolations, which instead of sounding distant and exotic, are perfunctory and leaden. The E Flat Concerto (No.3) is unnecessarily split between the two discs, which, according to my calculations, could have just been accommodated on the first disc, leaving room (as with the rivals) for useful fill-ups. To be sure, there are things to enjoy on the way. I like Plasson’s phrasing of the orchestral accompaniment in the first movement of the C Minor Concerto (No.4), which boasts some lovely string playing. The cod orientalism of the 5th Concerto (the so-called ‘Egyptian’) is nicely conveyed, but I miss the sheer artistry of a Hough or Rogé, who play this music as if it were the greatest ever written.

As mentioned above, it seems to be an unfortunate combination at work here. If the players had been treated to a more sympathetic, warmer acoustic with a better balance, the fierceness of some of the playing may have been less noticeable. As it is, the awful piano sound (where on earth was the tuner?) is totally unacceptable. My advice is, spend a bit more on any of the others, and you will get far more from these life-enhancing works.

Tony Haywood


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