Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)

Complete works for cello
CD 1

Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872) [19:58]
Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 119 (1902) [18:43]
Cello Sonata No.2 in F major, Op.123 (1905) [38:21]
CD 2
Cello Sonata No.1 in C minor, Op.32 (1872) [20:53]
Romance in F major for cello and piano, Op. 36 (1874) [3:13]
Romance in D major for cello and piano, Op. 51 (1877) [3:14]
Allegro appassionato for cello and piano, Op. 43 (1873) [4:18]
The Swan from: The Carnival of the Animals arranged cello and piano [3:05]
Chant Saphique for cello and piano [4:52] (1892)
Gavotte for cello and piano, Op. Posth. [3:04]
Suite in D minor for cello and piano, Op. 16 (1862-66) [25:59]
Luigi Piovano (cello)
Orchestra del Teatro Marrucino/Piero Bellugi (Op. 33 and Op. 119)
Nazzareno Carusi, piano (Op. 123)
Luisa Prayer, piano (CD 2)
rec. live, Teatro Marrucino, Chieti, Italy (Op. 33 and 119); Studio Fonoprint, Bologna, Italy (Op. 123); December 2003, La Ribattola, Sarteano, Siena, Italy (CD 2)
ELOQUENTIA EL 1024 [76:06 + 68:42]

The cellist Luigi Piovano has chosen to record a double CD set of eleven works by Camille Saint-SaŽns. For a collection laying claim to presenting the complete works for cello the PriŤre for cello and organ (arranged for cello and piano), Op.158 (1919) should have been included.

Piovano is the first cello soloist of the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome and the first guest cello soloist of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to his activities as a cello soloist Piovano is also becoming increasingly involved with conducting. He founded the Orchestra da Camera della Campania now known as Musici Aurei.

On this Eloquentia release Piovano performs using a Matteo Goffriller (circa 1730), for the Cello Sonata No.2 an Alessandro Gagliano (circa 1710) and the other scores a 1935 Arthur Fracassi from Cesena. I couldnít understand the information given in the booklet about the instruments used by the two pianists.

During his career Saint-SaŽnsís wrote a number of scores for the cello, an instrument that he greatly admired. Inexplicably, with the exception of Cello Concerto No. 1 and the popular The Swan these scores are rarely heard which is a shame is given the high quality of craftsmanship.

The opening work is the Cello Concerto No. 1, generally accepted as the finest of Saint-SaŽnsís two concertos. It is rightly regarded as one of the best loved in the repertoire. It is sunny, colourful and compact and plays continuously across three distinct sections. Here Piovano provides a yearning dignified quality with noticeably impressive dynamics shifts.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 was composed in 1902 some thirty years after the First. The two movement score was intended for the Dutch cellist Joseph Hollmann. Although providing the soloist with considerable technical challenges the themes in the Second Concerto are unmemorable and consequently the work has been regarded with less favour. Piovano in the Allegro moderato e maestoso displays an impressive Legato with a deep rich timbre. Thereís brisk playing in the Allegro non troppo with splendid technical control.

Completed in 1905 the Cello Sonata No.2 is somewhat less regarded than the C minor Sonata, its predecessor by over thirty years. This four movement score contains a detailed set of Variations. At nearly forty minutes this sonata is the lengthiest score on the disc. A turbulent opening movement includes a sunny and calm central passage. The brisk and vivacious Scherzo with variations just scurries along without a care in the world. Attractive and appealing, the Romance acts like a passionate love letter tinged with a slight undercurrent of regret. The movement would make a lovely stand-alone recital piece. The final high-spirited movement is infused with engaging good humour.

The impressive three movement Cello Sonata No.1 was written in 1872 the same year as the A minor Cello Concerto. At the time of writing the fateful Franco-Prussian war was still in the memory and this darkly coloured score could easily be said to reflect the pain and anguish that Saint-SaŽnsís experienced as a result of the conflict. Piovano provides a stormy and resolute opening movement followed by a stately abd elegantly textured Andante. A seriously tempered final movement in the hands of Piovano possesses real pent-up emotion.

Saint-SaŽns wrote his short Romance Op. 36 in 1874, originally for horn and piano. An undemanding score, its light and agreeable lyricism has been described as fitting for the Parisian salon. Calm and relaxing on the surface with its glorious melody at the core the perceptive Piovano reveals a slightly nervous undercurrent. The D major Romance Op. 51 was completed in 1877 three years later than its equally short sister score the F major Romance. I was struck by the turbulent mood of the D major score with absorbing writing that finds a relaxing conclusion.

A popular staple of the cello repertoire the Allegro appassionato, Op. 43 was written in 1873. Evidently this brief score in its version for cello and piano proves a popular choice for young cellists in competitions and recitals as it presents only moderate technical challenges. Thereís resolute playing from Piovano with a splendidly engaging melody and the sense of uncertainty in the writing.

Of the fourteen movements of the famous Fantasia The Carnival of the Animals Saint-SaŽns permitted only the penultimate movement The Swan to be published in his lifetime. The Swan has achieved great popularity and has been arranged in many instrumental combinations. This arrangement for cello and piano is especially successful. With its most enchanting melody one can easily picture a swan gliding gracefully and serenely over still water.

Saint-SaŽns completed the Chant Saphique for cello and piano in 1892. It was premiŤred the same year at the Sociťtť de la Trompette. Played by Piovano with considerable concentration this richly textured score lacks the tenacity of some of its companions. Published posthumously the short Gavotte for cello and piano, so sprightly and elegant, is a well crafted example of Saint-SaŽnsí neo-baroque writing.

The final score on the double set is Saint-SaŽnsí appealing Suite in D minor. It was an early work started around 1862 and completed in 1866. Cast in five movements this substantial score includes an exquisite Serenade. Biographer Michael Steinberg has written that the Suite, ďÖ is generally regarded as the first work in which an individual and identifiable Saint-SaŽns voice can be heard.Ē The Prelude feels like a swirling technical exercise rather than simply entertainment for the listener. Next comes a pleasing and melodic Serenade where Piovano engenders a soothing mood contrasted by the lively and dance-like Scherzo. With its arresting melody a melancholic quality pervades the extended Romance. I found Piovano an effervescent and colourful communicator in the sturdy demands of the Finale.

My favoured alterative version of these major Saint-SaŽns scores featuring the cello are those from cellist Johannes Moser with the Radio Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR under Fabrice Bollon. Moser elects to record the smaller scores in their versions for cello and orchestra rather than those for cello and piano. I made this 2007 Stuttgart recording on Hänssler Classic CD93.222 one of my ĎRecordings of the Yearí for 2009. Displaying a secure technique and rich timbre Moser in these delightful interpretations, expertly mixes a generous palette of tone colours. Particularly impressive is the iron grip that he exercises over the proceedings.

This Eloquentia double set was recorded across three locations in Italy. On disc one the two Cello Concertos were recorded live and are coupled with the Second Cello Sonata.

I found the overall sound quality to be more than acceptable without being exceptional.

Impressive soloist Luigi Piovano plays throughout with skill and commitment and with abundant artistry and eminent sympathy. Nazzareno Carusi and Luisa Prayer offer consistently impressive support. In the two concertos the Orchestra del Teatro Marrucino under Piero Bellugi, without having the refinement of the premier orchestras, play conscientiously and with considerable ability.

Michael Cookson

Skill and commitment and with abundant artistry and eminent sympathy.