Camille SAINT–SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Cello Sonata No.1 in C minor, op.32 (1872) [21:34]
Le Cygne (Le Carnaval des animaux) (1886) [2:47]
Cello Sonata No.2 in F, op.123 (1905) [36:03]
Le Cygne (Le Carnaval des animaux) (1886) (transcr. Leopold Godowsky (1870 – 1938) (1927)) [2:49]
Mats Lidström (cello), Bengt Forsberg (piano)
rec. 10-12 April 1999, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, DDD
Re–issue of Hyperion CDA67095
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55342 [63:46]
We still seem to think of Saint–Saëns as the composer of a fine Symphony (No. 3), a brilliant Piano Concerto (No. 2), an equally brilliant Violin Concerto (No. 3), two virtuoso pieces for violin and orchestra (Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and Havanaise), a handful of symphonic poems and the ‘Grand Zoological Fantasy’, Carnival of the Animals. All those pieces are more than worthy of our attention, but they are such a small part of this prolific and fascinating composer’s work. What about the chamber music? There are violin and cello sonatas, string quartets, piano trios and other pieces, but when do we get the chance to hear them, except on isolated recordings? So full marks for this re–issue bringing the Cello Sonatas back to our attention.
The 1st Sonata is a big and bold, passionate work. Lidström and Forsberg throw themselves into the emotional maelstrom with relish and savour every moment. Someone hearing this for the first time might be surprised at just how ardent Saint–Saëns can be. Certainly, you won’t find this kind of unbridled fervour in too many of his works. This performance is obsessive in its intensity and the close recording helps to heighten the emotional nature of the music. This is a superb work which should be in every cellist’s repertoire. The disk is worth buying for this performance and work alone, it’s so good.
The 2nd Sonata is a huge work in four movements, the second being an extended set of variations. As with the 1st Sonata there’s a rich vein of lyricism, but here it’s tempered with more introspective music, and thus there’s much more variety in the piece. Certainly the first movement would be unbearable were it not for these oases of calm. It’s almost over–the–top in its headlong rush and one feels that Saint–Saëns had a hard time managing to get all the notes on the page, so quickly do new ideas pop up and demand our attention. The second movement is a scherzo with variations, and what a fine set it is!, the ghostly theme returning breathlessly at the end. The slow movement is more a love song than the intense outpouring of the earlier work, and it’s none the worse for that. The finale is a fast run with a dazzling ending, where all passions are finally spent. This is a marvellous work and deserving of our time.
Between the Sonatas is a beautifully restrained, and totally unsentimental, account of The Swan, from Carnival of the Animals. The surprise of the disk is the arrangement of the same piece by piano virtuoso Leopold Godowsky, for I was expecting some over-the-top piano showpiece but was astonished, and very happy to find, a delicate version, using the whole range of the cello with an unobtrusive accompaniment. Quite simply, I cannot praise this disk too highly.
I cannot praise this disk too highly.