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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Complete works for violin and orchestra

Violin Concerto No. 1 (1859) [11.43]
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1879-80) [28.12]
Violin Concerto No. 3 (1879-80) [27.37]
La Muse et le poète (1910) [15.32]
Valse-Caprice (arr. Ysaÿe) (1877) [7.10]
Romance in C major (1871) [6.48]
Romance in D flat major (1874) [5.53]
Havanaise (1887) [9.40]
Morceau de Concert (1880) [9.39]
Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso (1887) [8.56]
Caprice andalou (1904) [9.19]
Prélude du Déluge [7.24]
Ulf Hoelscher (violin)
Ralph Kirshbaum (cello)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Pierre Dervaux
rec. Abbey Rd Studios, London, 23-24 Mar, 4-7 Apr 1977. ADD
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 72001 2 7 [2CDs: 76.09+73.29]



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This toothsome collection remains just as desirable as when it was first issued on three or was it four LPs, back in 1977. EMI are quite right in keeping it in the catalogue. It will continue to command steady sales.

Saint-Saëns is a master of tune-spinning and of the orchestral palette. This is fragrant writing in the line of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Octet and the violin concertos by Bruch (No. 1), Glazunov and Karłowicz . These works are sugared rather than salted, charm-woven rather than vehicles for great angst or profundity; no harm in that.

The familiar works are the Third Concerto, Havanaise and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Of course when I say 'familiar' I mean familiar on disc. When did you last hear any of these in concert? The Third is well enough known not to need much commentary. After a scorching performance it is a mark of EMI's attention to aesthetic detail that a very long gap is left before we breathe the sultry Cuban air in Havanaise (also superbly recorded by both Grumiaux and Kogan). Hispanic atmosphere and sensitive attention to dynamic contrasting by Dervaux and Hoelscher as well as an all-conquering pride and impulsive dash make you realise that the Caprice Andalou deserves to be just as well known as the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and the Havanaise. Quickfire playing and romantic themes are boldly despatched. The Prélude from La Déluge with its grave steady fugal character is a work of devotional atmosphere as befits the overture to the composer's 1875 oratorio.

Listen to the eager acceleration of Hoelscher in the finale of the Griegian First Concerto which, but for its name and three movements, could easily have passed for one of the nine short genre pieces which fill out the two discs around the core of the three concertos. This is a short work (almost 12 minutes) of shivering Beethovenian fire - full of incident and invention. Bruch's First Concerto is a model (conscious or unconscious) for these concertos. Bruch also wrote three but it was his first that held the high ground while his other two languished. In the case of Saint-Säens the Third has found a place in record catalogues while the other two have had to struggle against the odds. The Second Concerto has an Ossian-inflected andante espressivo with harp figures lending depth to a sentimentality teetering close to Bruch's Scottish Fantasy. This makes way for a dashing Polacca scherzando with sideways glances towards Beethoven's 'dance apotheosis' - Seventh Symphony.

 

La Muse et le poète is a sober double concerto in which Ralph Kirshbaum's cello cuts a deeper path than the violin. This is soulful, not in the manner of Bruch's Kol Nidrei, but rather like the Beethoven Violin Concerto yet with a Tchaikovskian honeyed nostalgia over the proceedings. The explosive little Valse-Caprice is as arranged by Ysaÿe. The two Romances are just that: well rounded, not impulsive, musing and touching though lacking a strong profile.

The notes by Michel Roubinet cover the ground at express speed. The essentials are there but little else.

There is no compettion although the shorter works have been gathered onto a much more recent French EMI collections with Plasson and Dumay which I have not heard. Both Hyperion and Claves have offered single CDs of the three concertos but Hoelscher has deep reserves of virtuosity and reflective fibre and a generous way with their expression. You are unlikely to want to wander far from this set which still sounds very good if inevitably slender-toned by comparison with today's very best.

There is no reason to go looking further afield. Intrigued? Then buy this set with confidence.

Rob Barnett



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