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Saint-Saens: Violin & Cello Concertos / Capucons

Capucon,R. / Capucon,G.
Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Erato   Catalog #: 34134   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Renaud CapuÁonGautier CapuÁon
Conductor:  Lionel Bringuier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

SAINT-SAËNS Violin Concerto No. 3 1. La muse et le poète, op.132 2. Cello Concerto No. 1 3 ē Lionel Bringuier, cond; 1,2 Renaud Capuçon (vn); 2,3 Gautier Capuçon (vc); French Radio PO ē ERATO 34134 (65:48)

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For Saint-Saëns lovers here is an irresistible combination of the composerís two favorite concertos, plus a work with orchestra featuring the two solo instruments heard in the concertos.

The Capuçon brothers, Renaud and Gautier, have long partnered well together with each other and with other artists for many chamber music recordings; and, a bit more recently, each, as soloist, has been tackling the mainstream concerto repertoire.

Saint-Saëns was a brilliant pianist, leaving five piano concertos to prove it; yet, except for the one in G Minor, his two most popular concertos are for violin (the No. 3 in B Minor) and for cello (the No. 1 in A Minor). Few, in fact, are the violinists and cellists who didnít record them. Heifetz, for instance, never recorded the Violin Concerto, but he made killer recordings of Saint-Saënsís Introduction and rondo capriccioso and of the composerís D-Minor Violin Sonata, so it canít be said that he didnít like Saint-Saëns. Likewise, I donít believe Pablo Casals ever recorded the Cello Concerto.

With so many versions of both these works to choose from, I was prepared to say that these new ones would probably have a hard time beating out the competition, but Iím glad I didnít, for if I had, Iíd have been wrong. What really blew me away in Renaudís performance of the Violin Concerto was the scalpel-sharp precision of his chords and double-stops, which he executes without a hint of bow-crunching or finger-fumbling. Granted, he and conductor Lionel Bringuier adopt tempos for the first and last movements that are a bit below the norm, but to me, the tradeoff is more than worth the dividends it pays in clean, perfectly even runs, dead-on intonation, no near-missed harmonics, and a luminous tone of incomparable sweetness.

The arguably iconic recording of this Concerto is the 1950 Zino Francescatti, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was my first version of the work, which I still have on a mono Columbia LP. Francescattiís performance of the piece is characteristically French in mannersóno surprise there, considering the violinist was Frenchóbut with due respect to his fans, I donít think Francescatti could have played with Renaud Capuçonís clean-cut articulation if his life depended on it.

Renaudís reading of the Violin Concerto is a real beauty, stunningly enhanced by gorgeous orchestral playing from the French Radio Philharmonic and the bright, open acoustic of the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where the recording was made in November 2013. And if itís French manners you want, listen to Capuçonís performance of the Concertoís second movement. Never have I heard it played with such expressive phrasing and subtle gradations in dynamics and tonal coloration. It simply took my breath away. Forget the annual Want List; this is Hall of Fame stuff.

Heaven forfend I should be responsible for another Cain and Abel incident, but I have to say that Frère Gautierís performance of the Cello Concerto, truly resplendent as it is, doesnít quite have about it that soupçon of specialness I hear in Renaudís performance of the Violin Concerto. Perhaps itís because thereís not as much musical depth to the score that so many versions sound, if not exactly routine, perhaps less distinguishable from one another. I donít think Iíve heard a bad performance of the piece, but with very few exceptions have I heard one that made me sit up and really take notice. One of them was by the highly gifted young cellist, Johannes Moser (reviewed in 32:5).

I must also confess a guilty pleasure: My all-time favorite version of the work is a 1967 recording by Leonard Rose with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I call it a ďguilty pleasureĒ because I once jokingly referred to Rose as the Ethel Merman of cellists. On recordings, at least, his tone projected with a robustness of amplitude that made everything he played sound big and rotund. This was not very stylish for the Saint-Saëns Concerto, but it was my first recording of the piece, and it made a lasting impression on me.

In contrast, Gautier Capuçonís performance canít be called anything but stylish; it takes wing on the wind of Saint-Saënsís swirling currents, and is kept aloft by a gliding bow and soaring tone. All in all then, itís a superb performance, but again, not one that necessarily outclasses a number of others.

La muse et le poète is an unusual work, and, in light of its opus number and date, one would think, a quite late one. For any other composer it would be, but when the 74-year-old Saint-Saëns wrote the piece while on holiday in Luxor, Egypt in 1909, he was just getting his third or fourth wind. The score was originally conceived as a one-movement piano trio and intended as a memorial tribute to the composerís friend and supporter Mme. J-Henry Carruette. Saint-Saëns subsequently orchestrated the piece himself, transferring the piano part to the instruments of the orchestra. Despite its suggestive title, one should not ascribe any extra-musical meaning to the piece, for it was Saint-Saënsís publisher, Durand, who named it for purely commercial purposes.

Of the approximately dozen other recordings of La muse et le poète listed, Iím familiar with two: (1) a 1977 performance by Ulf Hoelscher and Ralph Kirschbaum in a Brilliant Classics collection (originally on EMI) of Saint-Saënsís complete works for violin and orchestra, reviewed in 35:6; and (2) a more recent version on Onyx by Augustin Dumay and Sachio Fujioka, reviewed in 36:2. The present version by the Capuçonís, with a better orchestra and a superior recording, is to be preferred.

I would give this release five stars for the Violin Concerto alone, but with excellent performances of the Cello Concerto and La muse et le poète , outstanding conducting and orchestral playing, and a magnificent recording, this gets five stars plus a blue ribbon.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 3 in B minor, Op. 61 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Renaud CapuÁon (Violin)
Conductor:  Lionel Bringuier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; France 
La muse et le poŤte, Op. 132 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Gautier CapuÁon (Cello), Renaud CapuÁon (Violin)
Conductor:  Lionel Bringuier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; France 
Concerto for Cello no 1 in A minor, Op. 33 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Gautier CapuÁon (Cello)
Conductor:  Lionel Bringuier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; France 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 very mixed from very good to nothing great April 28, 2016 By Michael K. (sebastopol, CA) See All My Reviews "Am really surprised by my view. The violin concerto was new to me as was Renaud Capuchon's playing and found both quite nice and very enjoyable. This for me was the best part of the disc. The muse and the poet was way to shadowy and indistinct for me. Listened to it twice and then went for my version with Steven Isserliss, what a difference. True a lot of it seemed to be in the actual recording or presentation of the music so that might not have been the fault of the performers. Yet again in the cello concerto it was at best workmanship playing, good put again can go to others who were so much more outstanding and have heard Capuchon live with an orchestra so his playing ability is not in question. It is for me more a case of poor recording than anything else. A similar fate followed Jean- Philippe Collard who also had heard live and his recordings were not up to the task. Only mention him because it may be a fate that great french performers face." Report Abuse
 enchanting July 15, 2015 By jacqueline prendeville (Washington, DC) See All My Reviews "You, Music station for WETA, liked it so well that you played it this morning July 15, 2015. I agree, Mr. Capucons plays with precision, expression, tenderness, in total harmony with the orchestra and with exceptional understanding of Saint-Saens." Report Abuse
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