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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 - 1921)
Violin Sonata in d Op. 75 (1885) [24.25]
Violin Sonata #2, Op. 102 in Eb (1895) [22.54]
[Violin Sonata #3] "Triptique," Op. 136 (1910) [13.27]
Elégie, Op. 160 (1920) [4.54]
Ulf Wallin, violin; Roland Pöntinen, piano
Recorded Studio 10 Deutschland Radio [Lübeck, Germany?] November 2002
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Photos of performers and composer.
CPO 999 946-2 [65.42]


Comparison Recordings:
Sonata #1, Jascha Heifetz, Brooks Smith RCA 7707-2-RG

Saint-Saëns is notorious for organising the riot at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and leading the (he had hoped) mass walk-out of musicians. He was such a notoriously sarcastic wit that only Rimsky-Korsakoff ever out-insulted him face-to-face. Saint-Saëns was brutally dominated by his mother, to whom he fled after the deaths of his children and the failure of his marriage, and he thereafter spent Winters in Egypt obtaining for his pleasures Arab boys from procurers, and paid for his vices by living to the ripe old age of 86. He also wrote some of the most truly and uncontroversially beautiful music ever, not merely the ubiquitous and much arranged "Swan" movement from Carnival of the Animals, or the ravishing "Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila. Excoriated in the early 20th century, perhaps he is finally receiving some of his due in this neo-Romantic, post-dodecaphonic era as we redefine and rediscover just what constitutes beautiful sound.

Although Saint-Saëns was one of the first composers to take up Franz Liszt’s invention of the tone poem, he was otherwise mostly a very conservative composer and generally stretched the limits of sonata form no further than Brahms. The first and second violin sonatas were composed in conventional four movement form with Italian tempo names for the movements — allegros, adagios, andantes, and a scherzo. When for his third violin sonata he produced only three movements, his scruples obliged him to give it another name, and he even allowed himself to give the movements exotic names: Prémice, Vision Congolaise (in spite of its title, a quite European sounding rhapsody duet), Joyeuseté. The Elégie is denoted a moderato espressivo, beginning as a simple tune and rising to a flaming, passionate utterance.

This music is very difficult, requiring the seemingly casual virtuosity of Heifetz, which Ulf Wallin certainly commands. Pöntinen and Wallin are perfectly matched and collaborate with great skill and intelligence, and they produce an almost perfect performance. But the violinist needs to have available a soaring, crooning, sobbing, wailing tone. Heifetz is really just too cool, and Ulf Wallin, who is much warmer than Heifetz, still does not open quite far enough. This music requires someone like Aaron Rosand (who recorded only the first sonata), Michelle Auclair, or the young Arthur Grumiaux, and I don’t know who among the new violinists is the one to do it. Some day perhaps our vision of the perfect performance of this music may be fulfilled but, while we wait, this recording is an excellent way to become acquainted with this unjustly ignored, beautiful music.

Paul Shoemaker



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