> Saint-Saens Piano Concertos Hough [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)
Wedding Cake for piano and strings Op.76 (1886)
Rapsodie d’Auvergne Op.73 (1884)
Allegro appassionato Op.70 (1884)
Africa Op.89 (1891)
Stephen Hough (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Recorded in Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 22-24 January and 6-8 September 2000
and in Warwick Arts Centre on 3 July 2001 (Concerto No.3)
HYPERION CDA 67331/2 [2 discs 79.34 – 75.56]


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Forget the competition – if you want all the Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos, plus the bonus of some valuable and entertaining fillers, this is quite simply the one to have. All the criticisms I have had of recent issues (on Brilliant Classics and Sony Essential) are silenced here. The set has been greeted with virtually unanimous praise from a wide variety of sources, and one can dip in anywhere on the two very well filled discs to see why.

The first thing that strikes the listener is the superb quality of recorded sound. The beautifully regulated Steinway sounds sumptuously full, with thundering bass and crystal clear treble. It is set in a realistic concert hall balance with the orchestra, which also sounds marvellously rich and detailed. This would count for very little, of course, if the artistic results were not good. Luckily for everyone concerned, the playing is of an order that will make this set the standard reference for years to come. Full marks to these artists for treating these works with the respect they deserve. Attention to the smallest details, coupled with the sort of devil-may-care bravura needed for the pieces to work, make this set mandatory listening. Singling out individual moments is difficult, but the slow movement of Concerto No.1 is a perfect example of sensitive phrasing, with the CBSO strings exemplary, and Oramo shaping the Bachian line with great care. Hough’s piano interpolations in this movement differ from others I have heard, and he suddenly seems to be the one who makes complete sense of the composer’s marking of rapido e delicato. The barnstorming finale is done with marvellous panache from all concerned. We have come to expect pianism of an exceptional order from Hough these days, but even by his standards there is phenomenal virtuosity on display here. I particularly warmed to Concerto No.3, virtually forgotten these days, but on this evidence fully worthy of revival. Indeed, all the works are accorded the same dedication and superb musicianship, including the delightful fillers.

The packaging is of Hyperion’s usual high standard, with a thorough and very readable booklet essay by Philip Borg-Wheeler. This set, and indeed the whole Romantic Concerto series, is a credit to this brave and enterprising label. Go on, treat yourself - you won’t regret it.

Tony Haywood

Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series


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