Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
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 (review). 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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A fine CD, ideally suited to the recollection of summer past.