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Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Violin Concerto No 3 in B minor, Op 61 (1880) [27:03]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Concerto gregoriano for violin and orchestra (1921) [29:12]
Poema autunnale (1920-25) [12:20]
Pierre Amoyal (violin)
Orchestre National de France/Charles Dutoit
rec. September 1993, Eglise de Liban, Paris
Presto CD
DECCA 443 324-2 [68:57]

Presto Classics continues its invaluable service of releasing exact facsimiles of CDs that are either trapped in a box set or, as here, are no longer available. For the listener there is the great opportunity to fill a gap; for the reviewer an opportunity to hear a CD (complete with the original notes) that has passed by. Pierre Amoyal (b.1949) has a fine reputation as a violinist who was a pupil of Heifetz and a teacher in Lausanne. I haven’t come across him before, so I approached this disc with a fair amount of anticipation.

Saint-SaŽns’ Violin Concerto No 3 is, by general consent, the finest of his three and has been recorded by many of the great violinists. It was dedicated, as were the other two, to the great Pablo de Sarasate, who, it will be remembered, was a hero of Sherlock Holmes, another fiddle-player. As Simon Wright points out in his informative notes the outer movements have a pastoral quality. What strikes one immediately is the magical appearance of the violin before it’s enveloped by the orchestra. These musicians clearly have this piece in their DNA and one can relax and let the melodies wash over. As Byzantion states in his review of all three concertos on Naxos, Saint-SaŽns may not be the most profound of composers but as an inventive melodist he is virtually unsurpassed. This is very apparent in the first movement allegro non troppo. I was reminded at times of the Tchaikovsky concerto and see that Amoyal recorded that work, again with Dutoit, accompanied by the Philharmonia for Erato. That was coupled with Sibelius. It’s a disc I’d be most interested to hear. That said, Saint-SaŽns’ slow movement fails to reach the depths plumbed by the Russian genius. Described as a Pastoral barcarolle it is especially moving in such a committed performance and is perhaps the key to the work. In the finale the composer clearly had a virtuoso in mind. There’s plenty of bravado before a chorale is developed. The chorale is a form at which Saint-SaŽns, a notable organist, was highly proficient. There is a real sincerity in the composition and it’s much more than a technical showpiece. All in all, this is a superbly executed performance of a well recorded work. The really tangible sound is perfectly captured by the Decca engineers.

Respighi, famous for the Roman trilogy of tone poems and “The Birds”, was constantly looking back to earlier music and in this Concerto references forms such as Gregorian chant. It’s been suggested that the violin, in some manner, represents the priest in plainchant. Whilst undeniably lyrical the Concerto gregoriano is very different from the bravado of the Saint-SaŽns. The title makes it clear that the orchestra have a key role although there are intricate passages for Amoyal to negotiate which he does with flying colours. It’s not a work I’ve had the fortune to come across before but I found it profound and interesting. Respighi’s use of Chant is well woven into the melody. I understand that it is performed in concert occasionally and feel it would benefit from a live experience. This recording was Ian Lace’s recommendation when he surveyed Respighi recordings and it’s hard to imagine it better done. Certainly, this is a fine opportunity to discover an older recording. I’m certainly going to revisit the work when I can. Here is some outstanding playing by soloist and orchestra and a really satisfying sound, particularly as the work reaches its euphoric climax.

Simon Wright suggests an affinity between Poema autunnale and “Autumn” in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. It certainly evokes an autumnal atmosphere; almost an Italian Vaughan Williams. Respighi headed the work “A sweet melancholy pervades the poet's feelings, but a joyful vintner's song and the rhythm of a Dionysian dance disturb his reverie. Fauns and bacchantes disperse at the appearance of Pan, who walks alone through the fields under a gentle rain of golden leaves.” Although different from the famous “Roman” works, Respighi’s ability to evoke images and colour are abundant here and the melody certainly enraptures the listener. The violinist must be severely challenged by all the twists and turns here but Amoyal is more than equal to the task. Despite being different in many ways to the Saint-SaŽns I can see why this work was chosen to accompany it. It was a piece new to me and one I thoroughly enjoyed discovering.

These three works of varying popularity, all requiring outstanding technique, make for a highly satisfying programme. Although I have other recordings of the Saint-SaŽns, the Respighi works were new to me and were most exhilarating. Another highly acceptable Presto reissue.

David R Dunsmore


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