> Camille Saint-Saens - Piano Concerto Nos. 2 & 4 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No 2
Piano Concerto No 4
Cello Concerto No 1
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso *
Philippe Entremont, piano
Leonard Rose, cello
Pinchas Zukerman, violin *
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Mackerras *
Recorded 1961 (Piano Concerto No 4) 1964 (Piano Concerto No 2) 1967 (Cello Concerto) 1969 (Introduction and Rondo)
SONY SBK48276 [75’05]


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Much of this material has been absent from the UK market for many years so it’s good to be reacquainted with the virtues of the three soloists, principally Entremont and Rose, with Zukerman bringing the recording time up to snuff with the ubiquitous Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso - which unlike the other three performances was not a Philadelphian product. Entremont went on to record the complete set of the Saint-Saëns concertos with the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra under the magnificent Fauré conductor Michel Plasson – last on Sony Classical CD45624 which is a set of the individual performances recorded, I believe, around the late 1970s. So in a sense these Entremont-Ormandy performances of Concertos Nos 2 and 4 are in competition with Entremont’s later performances, though they’re nearly twenty years earlier and spiced with the effervescent Cello Concerto.

The Bachian flourishes emerge as strongly rhetorical in Entremont’s hands; he is adept and has a fine sense of the spaces between the music. Ormandy meanwhile lavishes the full weight of the Philadelphia sound on the cataclysmic opening orchestral tutti. This it should be noted was recorded not in Philadelphia’s Town Hall but whilst the orchestra was in New York and there is a sizeable decay of sound in the Manhatten Centre which won’t be to all tastes. The woodwind contributions are also very forward in the balance and an element of aural artificiality pervades the recording to the musical detriment of the performance. Entremont’s tone does tend to harden, especially at fortissimo points, and whilst he is technically and musically sure his tonal palette is rather limited, at least as preserved in these recordings. He and Ormandy are certainly deadpan in their humour in the second movement of the G Minor but lavish considerable virtuosity on the tarantella-like finale which ends very well indeed. The C Minor Concerto again opens utilizing baroque principles (a Chaconne) and affords plenty of opportunities for power and quicksilver delicacy – the andante section is particularly well shaped and for this credit must go as much to Ormandy as to the pianist. I found some diffuseness in the second of the two movements – this is superficially a two-movement work but is multi-sectional and internally divided. Not all the subsidiary and counter-themes are audible with as much clarity as they should be; but I did like the way in which the glorious melody of the finale – a second cousin of the "tune" in the Organ Symphony – is so sweepingly and adroitly prepared and executed as also the ruminative piano and bracing flautists and trumpets. The conclusion finds Ormandy in notably forthright form.

The Cello Concerto brings to the fore one of America’s greatest cellists, Leonard Rose. Woodwinds are dancing and again very forward in the balance – the upfront CBS sound again, immediate and confrontational – but Rose’s leanly focused tone copes and he deploys a studied elegance to the Minuet-like passage that I find most attractive. His colouration is discreet and technique quite adequate to deal with Saint-Saens’ twists and turns, structurally and musically, and he ends in triumph with a conclusive cadenza. Then there’s Zuckerman’s 1969 Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with Mackerras – a delightful pendant to an occasionally uneven but still attractive disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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