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La Muse et le Poète, for violin, cello and orchestra,
op.132 (1909) [16:25]
Cello Concerto no.1 in A minor, op.33 (1872) [18:31]
Symphony no.1 in E flat, op.2 (1853) [29:17]
Augustin Dumay (violin, conductor: La Muse); Pavel Gomziakov (cello)
Kansai Philharmonic/Sachio Fujioka
rec. Izumi Hall, Osaka, Japan, May 2011; Izumi no Mori Hall, Osaka,
November 2011 (Symphony). DDD
ONYX 4091 [64:13]
Despite the weighty advocacy of the likes of Donald Tovey and
Shostakovich, Saint-Saëns' First Cello Concerto is not
one of his very best works. That said, it is audience-friendly,
with its bright, airy nature and relative brevity. Perhaps therein
lies the reason for its considerable popularity to the detriment
of numerous better works in the Saint-Saëns catalogue.
At any rate, it has been recorded dozens of times, by newcomer
cellists and old hands alike, all undoubtedly attracted by the
almost relentless virtuosic demands. Performance-wise there
is little to choose among many of these recordings, including
this one - what the work is coupled with may be the deciding
factor in many cases.
The double-concerto-of-sorts, La Muse et Le Poète,
has a more nuanced, sophisticated sound, with the cello part
at least as interesting as that of the Concerto. The whole is
enhanced by some lovely writing for the violin, as poetic as
the title suggests. Saint-Saëns was in his seventies when
he wrote this, and the benefit of a life's worth of experience
- though he was still far from moribund! - is in evidence on
every page of lyrical warmth.
On the other hand, perhaps the finest work of the three here
is Saint-Saëns' 'first' Symphony - his second completed,
in fact - which he wrote, rather astonishingly, at the age of
eighteen. As attractive and exciting a work as the famous Third,
the neglect in concert and recording halls of this and the remaining
three is inexplicable, although the ingrained sniffiness of
some critics is hardly a help. French conductor Jean Martinon
has been dead for more than three decades but his recording
of all five with the Orchestre National de l'ORTF for EMI does
a good impression of being re-released every couple of years
In fact, Brilliant Classics issued a repackaged set just a few
months ago (94360,
only two years after 92777),
and the chance to have all five Symphonies for less than £10
should not be missed by any music-lover. As for the First, this
is as convincing a performance as any of a work in which there
are hints aplenty of Mendelssohn and, in the glorious finale,
Beethoven. Even so, the teenage prodigy was already stamping
his intelligent, likeable personality all over his music.
The Kansai Philharmonic has been around for over forty years,
albeit in part under its founding name, the Vielle Philharmonic.
Though some non-Japanese sources use the names almost interchangeably,
the KPO should not be confused with the Kansai Symphony Orchestra
- now the Osaka Philharmonic - nor the Kansai City Philharmonic!
The KPO is developing into a rather good outfit - its ensemble
in these recordings is very impressive, ditto its tone, which
is perhaps surprisingly European. They are skilfully steered
by Augustin Dumay, their recently-appointed musical director,
and Sachio Fujioka.
Sound quality is good, if not quite attaining excellence - there
is a hint of qualitative decay in the strings at times. In the
Cello Concerto the otherwise splendidly even-handed Pavel Gomziakov
is miked closely enough for listeners to be able to 'enjoy'
his noisy inhalations. Why do so many string soloists seem adenoidal?
The accompanying notes by Malcolm MacDonald provide excellent
detail, albeit on flimsy paper. The booklet is glued to the
digipak case, which will probably annoy some people.
In sum, this is a fine CD, ideally suited to the recollection
of summer past.
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