Camille SAINT-SAENS (1866-1924)
Complete Piano Works - Volume 3
Six Bagatelles, op.3 (1855) [20:54]
Album, op.72 (1884) [24:02]
Rhapsodie d'Auvergne in C, op.73 (1884) [9:53]
Caprice sur les Airs de Ballet d'Alceste de Gluck (1867) [12:03]
Les Cloches du Soir in E flat, op.85 (1889) [3:14]
Romance sans Paroles in B minor (1871) [2:04]
Feuillet d'Album in A flat, op.169 (1921) [3:04]
Geoffrey Burleson (piano)
rec. Patrych Sound Studios, New York, October 2011. DDD
GRAND PIANO GP609 [75:14]
This is the third of five volumes in American pianist Geoffrey Burleson's recording of Saint-Saëns' complete music for solo piano. HNH International (the company behind Naxos) launched the new Grand Piano label in March 2012 with the first volume (see review). This accorded Saint-Saëns some of the recognition his relatively neglected piano works deserve. Those new to the series will find this a good place to begin: the disc is much more generously timed than Volume 2 (see review), offering an extra twenty minutes of Saint-Saëns' magical music.
Burleson writes that the "breadth, brilliance and imagination of Saint-Saëns' piano works never ceases to inspire me!" Cynics might view these words as mere shrewd marketing, but no - Burleson does not exaggerate the diamond-studded nature of the oeuvre of a composer who is still, despite the popularity of a handful of orchestral works, vastly underestimated. Whoever it was that said that Saint-Saëns was "the only great composer who wasn't a genius" had the proverbial ears of cloth. He was like the many critics who have since dismissed him - clearly without ever listening to much of his music - as a reactionary or un-self-critical composer. It was not on a whim that Hans von Bülow described him "the greatest musical mind of our time", nor that Liszt declared him the world's greatest organist!
In fact, Saint-Saëns was widely considered one of the finest pianists of his or any time, and sceptics need only listen to Burleson's rewarding recordings, especially in volumes 2 and 3, to begin to understand why. The Six Bagatelles were Saint-Saëns' first published work for piano, but they are bagatelles only in the way those by Beethoven are. In fact, their poetic beauty, saturated with evocative, often poignant lyricism, is typical of the composer's writing for his instrument. There is scarcely a work in Burleson's recital that does not belong at the heart of any pianist's repertory. Even the three-minute Feuillet in A flat is - as befits Saint-Saëns' final published piano work - a delightfully tender miniature that ought to be popping up in encores all over the place.
As one might imagine, Saint-Saëns the composer always gave Saint-Saëns the pianist plenty to do in performance, although the virtuosity never approaches vulgarity. Burleson rides the musical waves like a bronzed champion surfer. His discography has tended to focus on the music of his compatriots, from Roy Harris's complete piano pieces on Naxos (review) to the underrated Arthur Berger on Centaur (review). Perhaps most impressively, he recently tackled the twelve mainly mid-twentieth-century and highly imaginative Piano Sonatas of Vincent Persichetti for the New World label (review).
The track-listing omits, for no obvious reason, most of the composition dates, though these surface in the informative, well written notes by Burleson. Not content with his roles as soloist and annotator, Burleson has, once again, produced the CD with one of America's finest independent producers, Joseph Patrych, at the latter's own studios in New York. Sound and general technical quality are very good. The reproduction on the cover is part of a series of paintings by the Norwegian artist Gro Thorsen. Though hardly the height of inspiration, it does add to the collectibility of the series - but no one who values memorable, mellifluous music of considerable character should be hesitating anyway.
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A generously timed disc of magical music.
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