Camille Saint-SaŽns is one of those
composers whose fame now rests largely if not exclusively on
just a small number of works, the Symphony No. 3 ĎOrganí,
Symphonic Poem, Danse macabre and The Carnival of
the Animals. From an early age, Saint-SaŽns composed prolifically
and seemingly without effort. He once said. "I produce
music like an apple tree produces apples." Throughout
his long life of eighty-six years, Saint-SaŽns wrote in all
genres, including symphonies, concertos, sacred and secular
choral music, thirteen operas, chamber music, numerous songs
and solo pieces for piano and organ.
When Saint-SaŽns was born in Paris
in 1835 Mendelssohn had twelve more years to live. When he died
in Algiers in 1921 Stravinskyís Rite of Spring was already
eight years old. Sadly by the time of his death Saint-SaŽnsí
popularity in France had diminished significantly. Around the
time of the Great War public taste in music had changed. However
the music of the multi-talented Saint-SaŽns has for a number
of years been undergoing a welcome resurgence to which the Hyperion
label have significantly contributed thanks to their award winning
set of The Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra recorded in
2000-01 by Stephen Hough and the CBSO under Sakari Oramo on
CDA67331/2. One only has to hear the Piano Trios Nos. 1 and
2 by the Joachim Trio on Naxos 8.550935 to be aware of the many
magnificent scores that await general discovery.
Thankfully this captivating new
release will go some way to further promote the case. This generous
and captivating selection, spanning sixty-four years, is outstanding
and must surely be one of my records of the year.
Saint-SaŽns frequently wrote for
the instrumental forces available to him. The set opens with
a rare Septet for trumpet, string quintet and piano.
The score is from 1880 and was the result of a playful commission
from a chamber music society known as ĎLa Trompetteí.
It is a jaunty work embracing seventeenth-century dance forms
within a neo-classical style. Perhaps fortunately, the composer
appears never to have fulfilled his original promise to the
society to compose a piece for guitar and thirteen trombones.
What wonderful and expressive writing ... and the ensemble play
with a passionate lyricism and a sureness of tone throughout.
The early Piano quintet in
A minor from 1855 exudes a youthful confidence and swagger,
the piano part leading the way, while the quartet quickly established
itself as a staple of the repertory. The piano plays a dominant
virtuoso role, often in opposition to the string quartet, but
also engaging in dialogue, ensemble, contrapuntal and unison
passages. This a compelling performance with rhythmic intensity
and superb attention to detail.
The Piano Quartet in B flat
major Op 41 dates from 1875. This quartet was actually
Saint-SaŽnsí second complete piano quartet. In 1851Ė3 he had
written a Piano Quartet in E major which he performed but which
was not published until it was recently resurrected and published
The Piano Quartet continues to
be a core work in the repertoire for violin, viola, cello and
piano and this glorious performance is stylish and vibrant.††
In 1921, the last year of his life,
Saint-SaŽns set out to compose sonatas for each of the main
woodwind instruments and piano. Those for cor anglais and flute
were never written, but Saint-SaŽns wrote the three Sonatas
for oboe, bassoon and clarinet. The wonderful
Tarantelle for flute, clarinet and piano was composed
in 1857. A Caprice sur des airs danois et russes for piano,
flute, oboe and clarinet (1887) delightfully combines
Danish and Russian themes. The sonorities of piano and wind
instruments conclude the programme. One is in awe at the composerís
ability to write with such attractive character, musical variety
and impeccable charm. The soloists offer fresh, thoughtful and
invigorating accounts that serve the composer admirably throughout.
The sound quality from the Hyperion
engineers is of the highest standard as are the booklet notes
by Sabina Teller Ratner.†
A wonderfully presented release
that is highly recommended. One of my records of the year.