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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Africa – Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra Op.89 (1890) [11:08]
Parysatis – Airs de Ballet (1902) [7:57]
La jota aragonese Op.64 (1881) [3:45]
Samson and Delilah – Grand Fantasy – (1877) arranged Alexandre Luigini (1850-1906) [13:35]
Tarantelle for flute, clarinet and orchestra Op.6 (1857) [5:36]
Sarabande et Rigaudon (1892) [8:41] º
Danse macabre – original version for tenor and orchestra Op.40 (1873) [2:49]
Suite algeriénne - Marche militaire françaises Op.60 (1880) [4:20]
The Muse and the Poet for violin, cello and orchestra Op.132 (1910) [15:16]
Ascanio - Valse-Finale  (1890) [3:55]
Gwendolyn Mok (piano)
Susan Milan (flute)
James Campbell (clarinet)
Tina Gruenberg (violin) º
Anthony Roden (tenor)
Stephanie Chase (violin)
Robert Truman (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Geoffrey Simon
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, January, April 1993. DDD
CALA CACDS 4031 [77:46]


Recorded back in 1993 this now makes an SACD appearance over a decade later. The utility of the collection can’t be denied. It collates disparate things in generally fine performances. There’s been some re-jigging of the programmes since their first appearance so a companion disc which gives us the seldom performed Requiem and the hardly-seldom-performed Third Symphony is not a direct re-run of the original.

That’s something of an academic point now, except to those who may think that the vaults have revealed previously unreleased morsels (they haven’t). The SACD channel tends to magnify something of a fault of the original releases which was a very broad sound stage. In practical terms this matters most in the case of the Requiem I shall be reviewing later. In the orchestral works it’s noticeable but not so problematic.

The performances in this compilation suit the romantic and brash side of things very adeptly. Since there’s nothing cerebral about it we need colour and verve and that old friend, dash. Africa might have received more sheerly scintillating performances but this one is ebullient and treats the tumultuous scherzo, a rhythmic tour de force, with estimable aplomb, Gwendolyn Mok taking the honours at the keyboard. Parysatis unveils its balletic charms with brilliant exotic sheen. Listen to Geoffrey Simon’s cueing of the low brass in the Third Air – exciting!

The Samson and Delilah – Grand Fantasy is heard in the arrangement by Alexandre Luigini.  It’s a typical pot-pourri, ripe and practical, and as such was very popular. It joined the bloodstream of such operatic “selections” that proliferated at the time and served as tasters for the masses. There’s also the very light and very early Tarantelle for flute, clarinet and orchestra written when the composer was twenty-two. The Sarabande et Rigaudon is a much later work and richly romantic – a concert pair in olden style. I think most people will have been surprised to hear tenor Anthony Roden burst forth in the Danse macabre but it was originally written as a song in 1873. This voice and orchestra version was arranged by the composer but is very seldom heard and makes for diverting listening. The Muse and the Poet is written for violin, cello and orchestra and is a lyrical and rhapsodic opus which encourages some luscious phrasing from both players. Some of the unison playing might remind one of the Brahms Double Concerto.

The solo playing is highly sympathetic and Geoffrey Simon ensures that these disinterred morsels receive captivating playing from the LPO. The acoustic remains slightly swimmy and much here, it’s true, is minor league Saint-Saëns. But it’s finely played and a worthwhile re-discovery.

Jonathan Woolf 



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