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Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Suite algérienne Op.60 [19:11]
Suite in D major Op.49 [20:03]
Suite for cello and orchestra in D minor Op.16bis [21:10]
Serenade in E flat major Op.15 [6:15]
Guillermo Pastrana (cello)
Basque National Orchestra/Jun Märkl
rec. 2016, Sede Orquesta Sinfonica de Euskadi, Gipuzkoa, Spain
NAXOS 8.573732 [67:04]

Jun Märkl’s previous Saint-Saëns orchestral collection on Naxos gave us splendid modern versions of the composer’s four symphonic poems (Naxos 85737450) and was a great success. That CD featured the Orchestre National de Lille but here he turns his attention to the excellent Basque National Orchestra.

The Suite algérienne is set in four movements and it opens with a marvellous seascape depicting a ship entering Algiers. The Moorish Rhapsody that follows is attractive but immediately forgettable. The Rêverie du soir (A Blidah) is rather more inspired and lyrical and the popular Marche militaire française, much beloved of military wind bands, brings the suite to a memorable close. The Suite in D is more substantial and musically far more satisfying. It inhabits a similar sound world to that of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances and is orchestrated with classical restraint. Cast in 5 movements the suite is characterised by its use of French baroque dance movements. The opening Prelude brings to mind the opening movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony. The Sarabande, whilst being baroque in nature, also looks forward to the English string works of Elgar and John Ireland. A lively Gavotte is followed by a gently flowing Romance and a bustling Final in the form of a moto perpetuo with the lightness of touch of a Mendelssohn scherzo. Saint-Saëns originally wrote his Suite in D minor for cello and piano in 1866 but it was revised and orchestrated in 1919. The suite is based on dance music but not the dance music of France. The Prelude is a nod in the direction of J S Bach and the Serenade sounds like a re-working of Fauré’s famous Pavane, not just melodically but also in terms of the orchestration. The Gavotte takes us back into the world of J S Bach and then the mood shifts for a reflective, ruminating Romance. The concluding Tarantelle shows Saint-Saëns in one of his boisterous and playful moods. The final work in the collection is a beautiful little Serenade. The melody is very similar to the one used by the composer in his violin concerto No.3 and it’s a lovely little gem.

Those who love the music of Saint-Saëns need not hesitate. There is nothing too serious here and the music doesn’t plumb any depths but it’s delightful on the ear and written with great craftsmanship. Guillermo Pastrana performs the cello solos with fine musicianship and Jun Märkl conducts with taste, avoiding any sort of bombast. The Basque National Orchestra plays beautifully for him and the sound is of a high calibre.

John Whitmore



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