> Saint-Saens Violion Concerto 2 etc Kantarow BISCD1060 [TB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Violin Concertos No. 2
Spartacus Overture
La Muse et le Poète, for violin, cello and orchestra

Jean-Jacques Kantorow (violin)
Torleif Thedéen (cello)
Tapiola Sinfonietta
Tuomas Ollila, Jean-Jacques Kantorow (Spartacus Overture)
Rec October 1999, April 2000 (Spartacus Overture), Tapiola Concert Hall, Finland
BIS CD 1060 [54.06]


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Jean-Jacques Kantorow has been music director of the Tapiola Sinfonietta for nearly ten years. Here he features as violin soloist in the two concertante pieces, and as conductor in the Spartacus Overture. The latter was composed in 1863 to precede a new play by Alphonse Pagès on the familiar story; but without the availability of Kirk Douglas it soon dropped from the repertory. So too did the music, though as ever with Saint-Saëns the construction is sound and the scoring is always appropriate - at times vivid too. But in truth the music lacks a distinctive personality, since there are no memorable themes and its manner is not compelling in the dramatic sense. Although the playing is good, the recorded sound is not as colourful as the BIS engineers can conjure, so this must be counted only a muted success.

The musical style of Saint-Saëns tended in the direction of elegance, wit and sophistication rather than towards either modernism or emotional turbulence. And no composer since Beethoven has shown so consistent an interest in the concerto, for he was a master of the art of balancing a solo instrument with the orchestra.

Of the three violin concertos of Saint-Saëns, only the Third has achieved a regular position around the concert halls of the world, and it is rare indeed to encounter either of the others. Since we all tend to operate on the assumption that music we don't know is music we don't need to know, it is pleasing to report just what a good piece the Violin Concerto No. 2 is. It begins really strongly, with a compelling rhythmic pulse which sets the agenda for the whole of the first movement. Kantorow clearly cares about this music and sustains elegant lines and virtuoso figurations as appropriate. The expressive slow movement leads directly into the capricious finale, and this performance is well worth hearing. For Kantorow and BIS do Saint-Saëns a real favour by exposing some splendid music which has been under-valued.

The Concerto dates from 1858, La Muse et le Poète for violin, cello and orchestra, from a full fifty years later. The beautiful opening of this single-movement duo concertante is a really special inspiration, but alas the quality of invention is not sustained throughout the work's fifteen-minute duration. Again the playing of both soloists and orchestra is skilful and dedicated, the recording good though not outstanding.

Terry Barfoot

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