MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse macabre op.40 (1874) (1) [06:43]
The Carnival of the Animals (1886) (2) [23:11]
Allegro appassionato op.43 (1875) (3) [03:49]
Symphony no.3 in C minor op.78 (1886) (4) [34:12]
Samson et Dalila (1877): Bacchanale (5) [06:44]
John Ogdon, Brenda Lucas (pianos) (2), Paul Tortelier (cello) (3), Christopher Robinson (organ) (4), City of Birmingham Orchestra (1-4), Paris Opéra Orchestra (5)/Louis Frémaux (1-4), Georges Prêtre (5)
rec. No dates or locations but pub. 1963 (Bacchanale), 1971 (Carnival), 1973 (Symphony), 1974 (Danse), 1975 (Allegro) 
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 0946 3 82233 2 0 [75:17]

The idea got around during the Rattle years in Birmingham that Sir Simon had single-handedly dragged the CBSO out of the trough of provinciality. Louis Frémaux’s CBSO proves here to be a more than proficient band, with neat ensemble, good wind soloists and some rather exciting brass. Mind you, during the Frémaux years it was said that he had single-handedly dragged the CBSO out of the trough of provinciality. The trouble with that is that the only record the orchestra ever made, so far as I know, under his predecessor Hugo Rignold was a splendid Bliss coupling for Lyrita. One is reminded of Solti’s claim that the Chicago SO was a provincial band before he put them to rights (Kubelík? Reiner? …).

“Danse Macabre” opens the proceedings splendidly, with the right eerie colour and well-paced rhythms. The only doubt is the end, and this may be Saint-Saëns’ own fault. This piece is actually an expanded version of a song which originally had just piano accompaniment. The orchestral work follows the song quite closely for a couple of minutes then branches out on its own account. Rather strangely, Saint-Saëns retains the original ending and has the solo violin play the voice’s final comment in a semi-recitative which does not have a lot of sense without the words. Up to this point the poem by Henri Cazalis has been describing the dead dancers, who are rich and poor all mingling together without class distinction. So when the cock crows the singer calls out mockingly, and with an ironic reference to the motto of the French Republic:

Oh! La belle nuit pour le pauvre monde,
Et vivent la mort et l’égalité!
[Oh what a lovely night for the poor world,
Up with death and equality!]

A violinist who knows these words might try to play the music with suitably vicious mockery. I don’t think CBSO leader Felix Kok could have known them since he plays these bars rather romantically. But the same could be said of most performances.

In a sense, though, the Rattle-ites had a point. Love him or loathe him, Rattle has charisma. Frémaux just has sound musicianship. “Carnival of the Animals” is neatly turned, but I found myself wishing he would push the characterization of each piece that little bit more. Frankly, it’s ages since I heard this work but I remember it all sounding so much more zippy on an old Parlophone LP by Felix Slatkin (father of Leonard). John Ogdon had charisma, of course, but perhaps Saint-Saëns interested him less than Busoni, Sorabji et al and he and his wife Brenda Lucas are content to fit in with Frémaux’s view.

And so it is with the Symphony. The first movement chugs along amiably but Frémaux is content just to keep things on an even keel. The second subject is not presented to the listener as a new idea, it just happens. The famous Munch version contains no exaggerations but guides the listener’s ear as we expect from a great interpreter. At the beginning of the slow movement the difference between the two is almost comic. From Munch we get a great conductor and orchestra combining to mould the phrases, breathing and shading the music like a singer. From Frémaux we get a competent time-beater guiding the orchestra from one note to the next. He infuses the remaining two movements with more vitality but tension sags when the music is not forte.

Of course, the Munch recording is older – about contemporary with the Prêtre filler here and that’s how it sounds. But the Birmingham recording does not sound entirely natural, the inevitable result of engineers trying to give an illusion of Bostonian sonority to a rather modest string section, a pretence that was hardly necessary in Boston itself.

CFP shoot themselves in the foot with the remaining two pieces. Or rather, shoot Saint-Saëns and Frémaux in the foot.

First Saint-Saëns. If you listen to four of the pieces on this disc, you’d think what a terrific composer Saint-Saëns was. You might even want to go out and buy everything he wrote. The Allegro appassionato is there to remind you that all too often his music consists of pleasant, fluent little nothings. Not even Tortelier can do much for it.

And Frémaux. If you haven’t made comparisons, if you’ve just been lapping up the amiable performances, there’s Prêtre to remind you of the big outside world beyond Birmingham. Prêtre is not a conductor I personally care for much, I find much of his work overheated. But if trod the world stage it’s because he has that thing called charisma, he carries orchestras and audiences with him. The Bacchanale leaps into life in a way Frémaux just doesn’t seem to manage.

I know that Frémaux did excellent work in Birmingham and inhabitants of that city who recall his concerts may like a souvenir. Some of his recordings of rarer repertoire may still be useful.

Christopher Howell

see also Review by Rob Barnett




Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.