Camille SAINT-SAENS (1866-1924)
Complete Piano Works - 2
Allegro (after the Third Concerto, op.29) [10:19]
Piano Suite in F, op.90 (1891) [11:10]
Allegro Appassionato in C sharp minor, op.70 (1884) [5:44]
Thème Varié, op.97 (1894) [6:56]
Six Fugues, op.161 (1920) [19:51]
Geoffrey Burleson (piano)
rec. Patrych Sound Studios, New York, October 2011. DDD
GRAND PIANO GP605 [53:38]

HNH International, the company behind Naxos, launched their new Grand Piano label in March 2012. This included the first of five volumes of Camille Saint-Saëns' piano music, in Geoffrey Burleson's complete cycle of the solo works. Grand Piano promise "the exploration of undiscovered repertoire", and volumes to date of music by Christian Neefe, Joachim Raff, Alexander Tcherepnin, Miecysław Weinberg and Gerhard Frommel indicate a promising trajectory. On the other hand, the label intends to specialise in complete cycles, which will inevitably add in a few better-known works, such as the brilliant Allegro Appassionato and the magical Piano Suite, in this second volume dedicated to Saint-Saëns.
For this attractively coherent follow-up Burleson has grouped together works of a Classical or Baroque orientation, colourfully re-imagined by Saint-Saëns in a more contemporary cast. Though his unerringly lyrical, unpretentious solo piano music has been largely sidelined by the feckless fashions of history, Saint-Saëns was considered one of the finest pianists and organists of his or any time. Not every musician, therefore, is up to the often prodigious demands of his music, at their most demanding on this disc in the Allegro op.29, Saint-Saëns' inspired transcription-plus of the first movement of his Third Piano Concerto. Not all the items here are unremittingly virtuosic, but whatever the music, Burleson proves over and again he has the technique and poetic phraseology to make light of any and all complex passages. Moreover, unlike some, he possesses a delicacy of touch that prevents fortissimo or sforzando chords from ever sounding sledge-hammered.
Burleson also has experience. As an American, his discography focuses not unnaturally on the music of his compatriots, from Roy Harris's complete piano pieces on Naxos - admittedly barely a CD's worth, but still enthusiastically received (review) - to the underrated Arthur Berger on Centaur (review). Perhaps most impressively, Burleson recently tackled the twelve mainly mid-twentieth-century and highly imaginative Piano Sonatas of Vincent Persichetti for the New World label (review).
This CD is produced by Burleson himself with one of America's finest independent producers, Joseph Patrych, at the latter's own studios in New York. Sound and general production quality are first-rate, although the recordings have been made at quite a soft level. The accompanying booklet is glossy, neat and concise, with English-French notes by Burleson well written, detailed and informative. The reproduction on the cover is part of a series of paintings by the Norwegian artist Gro Thorsen. How the 'untitled' man ambling off connects with Saint-Saëns' music is not clear, but the collectability of Thorsen's artwork does make up for the short running time.
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The technique and poetic phraseology to make light of any and all complex passages coupled with a delicacy of touch.