Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Music for wind instruments
Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano Op. 79 [10:45]
Clarinet Sonata in E flat major Op. 167 [16:03]
Oboe Sonata in D major Op. 166 [10:55]
Bassoon Sonata in G major Op. 168 [12:19]
Romance in E major Op. 67 (arr. horn and piano) [7:31]
Tarantella for flute, clarinet and piano Op. 6 [6:50]
Canada’s National Arts Centre Wind Quintet (Joanna G’froerer (flute), Charles Hammann (oboe), Christopher Millard (bassoon); Kimball Sykes (clarinet); Lawrence Vine (horn)); Stéphane Lemelin (piano)
rec. Glenn Gould Studio, CBC Toronto, Canada, 7-9 June 2008
NAXOS 8.570964 [64:23]
Apart from a two disc set from the Nash Ensemble on Hyperion there is surprisingly little competition for recordings of all three of the wind Sonatas that Saint-Saëns wrote in 1921. Players of the oboe, clarinet and bassoon have included the works for their own instruments on recital discs but they make a greater impact when heard as a set. The word “impact” may be misleading as they are not in any way aggressive or assertive. Rather listening to them is like being with an elderly gentleman of impeccable manners and taste, and hearing him talk in a wonderfully cultivated way of times past. Perhaps there is nothing here of enormous depth but for me at least there is the feeling of being in the company of a man of immense compositional skill and distinction who is aware that he has nothing more to prove and no obvious regrets but whose mere company still gives great pleasure.
You may think that I am basing all of this on the composer’s age when he wrote them, but these Sonatas do surely have a ripe and autumnal feel. The various players here are all excellent in giving them just the right weight and manner. Any technical difficulties are succumbed without obvious effort and the balance between wind instruments and piano is just right. I hope that the artists would take it as a compliment that throughout this disc my focus was allowed to be entirely on the music rather than on any interpretative whims.
The other pieces on the disc are also worth hearing, although they are earlier and more concerned with the display possibilities of the various instruments. The Romance is a particularly lovely work, making it a matter of regret that the earlier Romance in F Op. 36 was not also included when these fine players were available.
This may not be a disc of music to challenge or surprise the listener, but it does charm and entertain, and the Sonatas go further in making the listener aware of the composer’s humanity as well as his skill and craftsmanship.
John Sheppard 

Charm and entertainment in the company of humanity, skill and craftsmanship.