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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Danse Macabre op. 40 (1874) [6:43]
The Carnival of the Animals (1886) [23:11]
Allegro Appassionato for cello and orchestra op. 43 (1875) [3:49]
Symphony No. 3 in C minor op. 78 (1886) [34:12]
Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah (1877) [6:44] *
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux
Christopher Robinson (organ)
Paris Opéra Orchestra/Georges Prêtre*
rec. 1963 (Bacchanale), 1973-4.
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 3822332 [75:17]



The longevity of Saint-Saëns allowed him the mixed pleasure and pain of living through at least two earthquake events: the appearance of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces in 1909 and four years later the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. These pieces were in a language alien to the well established French composer. Like Glazunov, who continued to compose in an idiom firmly locked in the nineteenth century, Saint-Saëns stuck to his last and continued to do what he knew. While some composers can be accused of following the latest baggage caravan Saint-Saëns was having none of that. Going by the enduring popularity of at least ten pieces of his music he knew what he was doing.
 
Here then is the popular Saint-Saëns in often excellent versions.
 
Frémaux was a great asset to EMI during his time with the CBSO and there were plenty of LPs issued though comparatively few have made it to CD or have stayed available for long. He then made a handful for Collins Classics. I was so pleased to see his recording of the Third Symphony. It’s a work of lavish romantic grandeur but also has a playful veneer. For long a favourite of mine this symphony with its echoes of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are undeniable but its ideas are fresh and vital and the layout of the orchestration is matchless.
 
When first issued, this disc like the equally wonderful Frémaux/CBSO Massenet Dances from El Cid, came out on the EMI equivalent of Decca’s Phase 4 but with a little less spotlighting of instruments. It may not have the iconic reputation of Munch and the Bostonians with Zamkochian but it is a little less relentless yet just as exciting and is much more naturally recorded. Listen to the excitingly chaffing Allegro moderato as an example of life-enhancing wind writing; epic excitement and delirium. The staccato ‘whump’ of the horns at 2:27 is a total delight – a velvet punch to the left ear. Indeed the whole of that Allegro (tr. 19) has the eager flightiness of a typical Glazunov scherzo – quite a proposition. Frémaux builds the grand – even grandiloquent - peroration majestically. Surely Britten must have learnt a thing or two about such things from Saint-Saëns for his Young Person’s Guide.
 
There is a stylish Danse Macabre, honeyed, Rimskian, mildly eerie, Hispanic and not that far removed from the even finer Havanaise and Caprice Andalou. Good to hear Felix Kok again – for long a well-kent presence as CBSO leader. Ogdon and Lucas join the CBSO in 1971 to take us through the witty vignettes of The Carnival of the Animals. There is plenty of ear-tickling detail. The Aquarium recalls the music for the radio-telescopes in Herrmann’s The Day The Earth Stood Still. These fourteen pieces are full of fascination with only The Swan seeming just a little perfunctory. The terribly brief Allegro appassionato does not mess around, cutting directly into the ardent and fast-tripping romantic heartland. It belongs with that legion of short concert works by Tchaikovsky, Glazunov and Bridge. Tortelier clearly relishes it. Prêtre may not always have been the model imaginative music director but here he delivers a fine Bacchanale although truth to tell, as a piece of music, it has too much of the Parisian ballet corps; not dissolute enough and too little terror. The Philistines always seem just a touch effete rather than threatening. Some nice Tchaikovskian dance stuff and kasbah exotics along the way.
 
Lots going for this good inexpensive single disc Saint-Saëns collection. A splendid Third Symphony that will deliver more pleasure for longer than many ‘definitive’ versions.
 
Rob Barnett

 

 

 

 


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