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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
The three violin concertos
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A major Op. 20 (1859)

Allegro - Andante espressivo
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C major Op. 58 (1858)

Allegro moderato e maestoso
Andante espressivo
Allegro scherzando quasi allegretto
Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor Op. 61 (1880)

Allegro non troppo
Andantino quasi allegretto
Molto moderato e maestoso
Liviu Prunaru (violin)
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/Lawrence Foster (conductor)
Recorded in the church of Notre Dame du Liban, Paris 20-24 May 2002
CLAVES CD 50 - 2210 [75.46]

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Although by no means a first recording of the three concertos (the first is really a two-movement Concert Piece) it is welcome to hear the rarer first two, with the third already established in the A roads rather than the motorways of the violin concert repertoire. A complicating factor is the numbering, always to do with publication rather than composition. The second actually precedes the first if only by a year, and it should be pointed out that the tonic key of the first concerto is in the major mode, not minor as the booklet says. It’s short, to the point, and youthful (Saint-Saëns was 24 at the time), a typical vehicle for contrasts in virtuosity and lyricism which might well have been penned by Kreutzer. The second (in the very pianistic key of C major) written a year earlier had to wait over twenty years before its first performance (1880). Melodic invention is somehat mundanely contrived in the first movement, falling as it does halfway between Mendelssohn and Liszt, by-passing Bruch and Brahms in the process. Most of its interest and fun lies in the parts more reminiscent of Paganini in the quixotic and sprightlier finale (track 4, 3’ 50").

The Rumanian violinist Liviu Prunaru, playing a Guarneri violin of 1676 and ably support by the fine, if distantly recorded Ensemble Orchestral de Paris conducted by the highly experienced and sympathetic Lawrence Foster, goes for the early works’ simplicity which results in somewhat understated performances, his dynamic range is worryingly limited, never really achieving a full-blooded forte let alone fortissimo. Maybe the value of the instrument inhibits him. On the other hand the third concerto suddenly comes alive in terms of style (the opening of tracks 5 and 7) as if to justify its better earned place in the repertoire, for it is undoubtedly a superior work to the other two. In the first single-movement concerto Prunaru is not quite in control of the intonation in the double-stopped octaves (track 1, 13’ 20"), but his playing is partly redeemed by the time he is on the more familiar territory of the last concerto.

Christopher Fifield


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Violin Concerto No.1 in A major, Op.20

Allegro - Andante espressivo

Violin Concerto No. 2 in C major, Op.58
Allegro moderato e maestoso
Andante Espressivo
Allegro scherzando quasi allegretto

Violin Concerto No.3 in B minor, Op.61
Allegro non troppo
Andantino quasi allegretto
Molto moderato e maestoso

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