Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 - 1921)
Violin Concerto no.1 in A, op.20 (1858) [12:48]
Violin Concerto no.2 in C, op.58 (1857) [30:10]
Violin Concerto no.3 in B minor, op.61 (1880) [29:23]
Fanny Clamagirand (violin)
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois
rec. 8-12 June 2009, Hankasalmi Church, Jyväskylä, Finland. DDD
NAXOS 8.572037 [72:30]
This recording has a lot of competition. Even Naxos have two other versions of the Third Concerto available: Grumiaux in their Classical Archives series (9.80608), and the 1994 Dong-Suk Kang recording (8.550752), which might well have been the first version owned by many listeners. Does it make sense to market another CD of these works, particularly of the Third? In the current financial climate, almost certainly not - neither Fanny Clamagirand nor the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, nor indeed Patrick Gallois, can really be considered names sufficiently 'big' to trigger loyalty buying.
Fortunately for music-lovers, Naxos often appear not to let profitability be their chief concern. Curious as it may seem, this appears to be their first recording of the First and Second Concertos. More to the point, this is a CD crammed with beautiful music.
Clamagirand has a fine, warm tone, ideal for this kind of music. This is her first major recording for Naxos - previously appearing only as soloist in Georges Taconet's Violin Sonata on Marco Polo in 2005. On this form, it is a safe bet that it will not be her last. Few outside Finland will likely be very familiar with the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä; their name will not roll off the tongues of many non-Finns! Yet the group has been making music for half a century or so and their Naxos CDs of Haydn, Kraus, Witt, Gounod and Gershwin, have been reviewed here. Their experience shows in these recordings: they deliver practically faultless performances, deftly guided by the reliable Patrick Gallois.
Saint-Saëns may not be the most profound of composers, but as an inventive melodist he is virtually unsurpassed. Many music-lovers will be familiar with the Third Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61, particularly the gorgeous slow(ish) movement; it still finds an occasional spot in the concert repertoire. Yet the other two concertos also deserve a place, written as they are with listener enjoyment in mind, rather than intellectual dissection. The First (published) Concerto in A, op.20is better described as concise rather than short. Bright and instantly memorable, it would make a superb encore piece for the intrepid concert soloist. The Second (published) Concerto in C, op.58 is, despite the opus number, a relatively early work, written a year before the First. It is both stylish and dramatic, particularly in the first movement - which is actually longer than the First Concerto - and the unusual, almost Sicilian-sounding second.
The recording is very good, with an excellent balance between orchestra and soloist. For good measure and no obvious reason, there is a postcard-style photo of the Seine at dusk on the CD cover.
As far as this disc is concerned, no one should let the Naxos price differential be the only consideration: this is quality music in quality performances.
Quality music in quality performances.