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Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de SAINT-GEORGES (c.1745-1799)
Violin Concertos - vol. 2
Violin Concerto in D Op. Posth. No. 2
Violin Concerto No. 10 in G (c. 1777)
Violin Concerto in D Op. 3 No. 1 (1773)
Qian Zhou (violin)
Toronto Camarata/Kevin Mallon
Rec. Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, April 2003 DDD
NAXOS 8.557322

Saint-Georges, the son of a French colonial planter and a Senegalese slave, seems to have been a "Jack of all trades". Apparently he was an athlete, swordsman, military commander, huntsman, violin virtuoso and conductor (directing the first performances of Haydnís Paris Symphonies in 1787) - but was he a master composer? As this disc is the only evidence currently available to me, I shall reserve judgment on that for the present. However, I should say straightaway that this music is certainly worth an airing. Here it is beautifully played and this disc is a joyful listening experience.

Structurally, these concertos might seem to be standard fare. All have three movements with the main meat in the first, followed by a slow interlude and quick finale. They are neither tonally ambitious nor particularly virtuosic but are highly melodious and the work of an individual voice. In the context of the 1770s, these concertos seem at least as interesting as Haydnís C major concerto (Hob.VIIa:1) written in 1769, though not quite at the level of inspiration of Mozartís five concertos (written between 1773-5). Allan Badley, the author of excellent notes in the booklet for this disc, speculates that Mozart might have heard Saint-Georges play his Concerto No. 10 when he was in Paris in 1778 (and feels sure that the great composer would have heard much to admire).

One interesting feature of this music is that none of the movements on this disc finishes forte or louder - the music reaches a natural conclusion without emphasis. There are few (if any) climaxes, just a stream of ideas skillfully interwoven between soloist and orchestra. I have no idea if Paganini (who was born in 1782) was ever exposed to this composerís music but I found a kinship and suspect that, if you like Paganiniís concertos, these will also appeal. For me, No. 10 is the pick of the bunch but they are all most attractive works.

The Chinese violinist, Qian Zhou, is no more familiar to me than the composer was but, again, I was impressed. She was a child prodigy who came of age in 1987 on winning the Marguerite Long/Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris. She produces beautiful tone and her playing of these concertos is most cultured. There is excellent support from the Toronto Camarata under Kevin Mallon and they are very naturally recorded. Add to this a high standard of presentation and the low cost, and just what are you waiting for? Iím off to check out the first disc in the series (played by different forces) which somehow seems to have passed me by.

Naxos have done it again Ė this label is "Jack of all kinds of interesting music youíve never heard before" and master of the irresistible bargain.

Patrick C Waller

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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