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SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor. Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1* The Swan; Allegro appassionato; Suite op. 16 Mischa Maisky (cello); Daria Hovora* (piano); Orpheus Chamber Orchestra DG 457 599-2 [70:14]



So who needs a conductor? The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra operates without one and judging by their sparkling, arresting performances and splendid ensemble playing on this disc they clearly flourish without one!

The Saint-Saëns A minor Cello Concerto has been recorded many times often in hackneyed combinations with the Lalo or Schumann Concertos. Now the A&R departments of the major recording companies are having to become more adventurous to compete with the indies. Recently we have had two recordings, from Naxos and BIS, that have coupled the A minor with Saint-Saëns's shamefully neglected Cello Concerto No 2 in D minor; now we have DG offering us the Sonata for Cello and Piano.

But to the music. Mischa Maisky and the Orpheus CO give a robust account of the Concerto with plenty of vim and attack; the finale is particularly thrilling while the graceful cantabile minuet central section is all elegance and romantic refinement. I would unhesitatingly put this new contender in the front rank with Harrell, Yo-Yo Ma and, of course, Starker.

The three short items: this reading of The Swan with sylvan harp and string accompaniment may be too slow for some tastes but it manages to be simultaneously regal and plaintive and the delicious Romance is ravishing while the Allegro appasionatto is more virile and masculinely passionate.

The neo-classical Suite, op. 16 is a delight and allows Maisky to show off his expressive and virtuoso talents. It is melodic and genial. Its Sérénade has the cello noble melancholic wandering around an engaging highly-decorated, rustic folk dance/waltz ; the gavotte is sturdy and assertive while the Romance is sentimental with bird-song like orchestral accompaniment. The sparkling finale is a spirited tarantella allowing Maisky a fine opportunity to display his technical prowess.

Saint-Saëns's Cello Sonata No. 1 dates from 1872 and is full of turbulence. France had just been crushed by Prussia at the Battle of Sedan and Saint-Saëns felt the blow keenly. His Cello Sonata vents his pent-up emotions and the antagonism is felt by both the piano and cello in the outer movements and to a lesser extent in the central Andante. Both Maisky and Hovora rise to the expressive combative opportunities and play in splendid contradiction and ensemble; Maisky especially grumbling and assertive. The Andante tranquillo is intriguing: the piano begins tiptoeing gingerly with the cello trudging behind. They then take it in turn to sing a glorious chorale while the other maintains the plodding ostinato figure. The momentary calm of this middle movement is rudely shattered as battle recommences in the turbulent finale with both instruments vying for supremacy; the more robust cello leaning heavily on the more eloquent piano.

An interesting and enjoyable programme.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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