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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Violin Concerto No.3 in B minor, Op.61 (1880) [25:12]
Caprice d’après l’Étude en forme de Valse for violin and orchestra, Op.52 (1877) (arrangement by Eugène Ysaÿe) [6:55]
Caprice andalous for violin and orchestra, Op.122 (1904) [9:13]
Prélude from ‘Le Déluge’ for string orchestra, Op.45 (1876) [6:34] *
Valse-Caprice (Wedding Cake) for piano and string orchestra, Op. 76 (1886) [6:12] *
Allegro appassionato for piano and orchestra, Op. 70 (1884) [6:01] *
Jean-Jacques Kantorow (violin), Heini Kärkkäinen (piano)
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Kees Bakels, Jean-Jacques Kantorow*
rec. September 2004, Tapiola Concert Hall, Finland. DDD
BIS CD-1470 [61:43]


This CD follows two earlier Saint-Saëns BIS releases from the same forces featuring the first two violin concertos and other shorter works (CD-860: Concerto 1 and CD-1060: Concerto 2 - see review).
 
Saint-Saëns lived to the ripe old age of eighty-six. I am always astounded that when he was born in 1835, Mendelssohn had still twelve more years to live and Bernstein had been born three years before Saint-Saëns died in Algiers in 1921. The fame of Saint-Saëns now rests largely if not exclusively on just a small number of works, notably the Symphony No. 3 Organ’ and also the Symphonic Poem: Danse macabre and the Carnival of the Animals. From an early age he composed prolifically and seemingly without effort and once said. "I produce music like an apple tree produces apples." Throughout his long life he wrote in virtually all genres, including thirteen operas, symphonies, concertos, sacred and secular choral music, chamber music, numerous songs and solo pieces for piano and organ.
 
Sadly by the time of his death his popularity in France had diminished significantly; around the time of the Great War the public’s taste in music changed. Interest in the music of Saint-Saëns has for a number of years been undergoing a welcome resurgence. However there is still a large body of sacred and secular choral scores and other stage works that appears to have been ignored both in performance and the recording studio.

For those who wish to sample some of his finest works I recommend: the acclaimed 1959 recording of the celebrated Symphony No. 3 Organ’ from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on RCA Red Seal SACD 82876-61387-2 RE1; the award-winning complete works for piano and orchestra from 2000-01 played by Stephen Hough and the CBSO under Sakari Oramo on Hyperion CDA67331/2; the Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 plus three other Saint-Saëns cello scores with Steven Isserlis as soloist from 1992-99 on RCA Red Seal 82876 65845 2 and the Violin Concertos Nos.1 and 3; Introduction et rondo capriccioso and Havanaise performed by Kyung Wha Chung with various orchestras and using the conductors Lawrence Foster and Charles Dutoit on Decca 460 008-2. I still treasure my 1982 vinyl recording of the Piano Concerto No.2 from soloist Cécile Ousset with the CBSO under Simon Rattle on EMI ASD 4307 c/w Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1. I understand that this Cécile Ousset recording with the same coupling has been released on CD on EMI CDC7472212, but I have not been able to track down a copy.
 
One only has to hear Saint-Saëns’s two Piano Trios from the Joachim Trio on Naxos 8.550935; the two String Quartets from the Medici Quartet on Koch Schwann 3-6484-2 and the Messe de Requiem, Op. 54 conducted by Diego Fasolis on Chandos CHAN10214 to be aware of the many magnificent, lesser-known scores that await general discovery.
 
The main work on this release is the popular Violin Concerto No.3. One is immediately struck by the determined and securely robust character of Kantorow’s playing. The interpretation is certainly not an essay in saccharine and sentimentality yet he convincingly captures an atmosphere of sun-drenched warmth. The opening pages of the Allegro non troppo are performed with passion and a gypsy-like feel. Especially impressive is the judicious tempo and weight of tone. I also really enjoyed the swift and highly exciting extended coda. In the Andantino quasi Allegretto the orchestral accompaniment is superb, for example at 1:16 the brief solo parts for the woodwind. The highly attractive and memorable principal theme in the Andantino is the highpoint of the score. The extended closing movement opens with a gypsy-like narrative on the violin and with the brilliant theme at 1:06 Kantorow is assured and robust. A master-stroke from the composer is the stark change of mood to a lyrical chorale with muted strings at 3:43-5:15. From 9:06 Kantorow and Bakels rapidly builds the music to a brilliant and breathtaking conclusion.
 
From my collection I consider three recordings of the Violin Concerto No. 3 as confident recommendations. My first choice account is the warmly expressive and superbly controlled, evergreen 1974 London performance by Kyung Wha Chung with the LSO under Lawrence Foster on Decca 460 008-2. I am also fond of the passionately lyrical 1989 New York account from Gil Shaham and the New York Philharmonic under Giuseppe Sinopoli on Deutsche Grammophon 429 786-2 c/w Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1. Another interpretation that I have had in my collection since its release is the 1982 Abbey Road account, impressive for its radiant control of tone and colour from Cho-Liang Lin and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas on Sony Classical SMK 66935 c/w Cello Concerto No. 1 (Yo Yo Ma) and Piano Concerto No. 2 (Cécile Licad). The recording by Ulf Hoelscher on EMI (5710012) is not one I know, but it was well received by my colleague Rob Barnett (see review).
 
The Caprice d’après l’Étude en forme de Valse for violin and orchestra was arranged by the Belgium violinist Eugène Ysaÿe from one of the cycle of six études for solo piano. Saint-Saëns clearly approved of Ysaÿe’s arrangement as he requested his publisher to include the score in his catalogue of works. The music in this interpretation from Kantorow is excitable and amatory, almost flirtatious but always enthralling. It is not difficult to imagine the animated Ysaÿe with his tousled mop of dark hair and flowing coat tails performing this score to an adoring Paris audience.    
 
From 1904 the Caprice andalous for violin and orchestra is a substantial single movement score that Kantorow reveals as enchanting, calming and gratifying. The music between 3:47-5:04 noticeably develops a clear flavour of exotic Spanish rhythms that are evident throughout the work. At 6:51 the pace intensifies and Kantorow provides a rapid-fire bravura display to the conclusion.
 
In the final three works the Prélude from Le Délugefor string orchestra, Op.45; the Valse-Caprice (‘Wedding Cake’) for piano and string orchestra, Op. 76 and the Allegro appassionato for piano and orchestra, Op. 70 Jean-Jacques Kantorow takes up the baton with Heini Kärkkäinen as the soloist in the two piano scores.
 
The orchestral prelude for strings is all that is heard today of the neglected 1876 oratorio Le Déluge, written to a Louis Gallet text. I have a reference book written in the 1960s that puts forward that the Prélude from Le Déluge as one of Saint-Saëns most popular compositions. Looking at the very small number of recordings available and its rare appearances in concert programmes I’m not sure that this is now still the case.
 
In the Prélude I was at points 0:33 and 1:55 strongly reminded of J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering, BWV 1079. The piece contains a substantial and poignantly affecting melody for the solo violin at 3:38-6:30 which lies at the heart of the score. We are not told who takes the solo violin part, maybe it is Kantorow who is conducting the Tapiola Sinfonietta. In this score, performed here with considerable affection and an undercurrent of reverential spirituality, it is easy to imagine being sat inside a beautiful and historic cathedral looking upwards in awe at the splendour.
 
The Valse-Caprice (‘Wedding Cake’) was composed in 1886, the same year as the Carnival of the Animals. Saint-Saëns wrote this as a wedding present for his friend Caroline de Serres. Melodious and joyous the piano of Heini Kärkkäinen plays almost continuously throughout.
 
The final work on this release is the Allegro appassionato for piano and orchestra that Saint-Saëns composed in 1884 shortly after his fifth opera Henry VIII. Saint-Saëns’ familiar use of energetic and flowing arpeggios is evident throughout. I loved the way soloist Kärkkäinen communicates a restrained passion through this attractive and tender score. The Allegro appassionato is clearly a love letter from Saint-Saëns expressed through his music.
 
The sound quality from the BIS engineers is clear and well balanced, and the booklet notes are pretty good too, adding to the attraction of this collection. The featured work the Violin Concerto No. 3 is well performed, however, the competition is extremely fierce.
 
Michael Cookson
 



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