WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Neeme Jarvi Conducts Saint-Saens / Jarvi, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Saint-saens / Royal Scottish National Orch / Jarvi
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5104   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
SuperAudio CD:  $19.99
In Stock
MP3: $9.99
What's this?




Notes and Editorial Reviews



SAINT-SAËNS Samson et Dalila: Bacchanale. Le Rouet d’Omphale. Phaëton. Danse macabre. La Jeunesse d’Hercule. Suite algérienne: Marche militaire française. La Princesse jaune: Overture. Une nuit à Lisbonne. Spartacus. Marche du couronnement Neeme Järvi, cond; Royal Scottish Nat’l O CHANDOS 5104 (SACD: 77:40)
Read more

Here in spectacular multichannel surround sound is a brand-new recording of all four Saint-Saëns tone poems plus a stewpot of shorter orchestral works, some of them popular favorites, others, less widely known.


Over the course of five years, between 1872 and 1877, Saint-Saëns composed four tone poems, three of them drawn from Greek mythology: Le Rouet d’Omphale, Phaëton , and La Jeunesse d’Hercule . The fourth, though third in order of composition, and most famous is Danse macabre , a romantic horror that trades Greek gods for gamboling ghouls.


Omphale’s Spinning Wheel is often said to be the very first French tone poem, though note author Roger Nichols points out that Franck beat Saint-Saëns to the punch by almost a quarter of a century with his symphonic poem Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne of 1848. According to Saint-Saëns’s own preface to the score, the subject of the story is feminine seduction and the triumphant struggle of weakness against strength. To atone for a murder Hercules is ordered by the goddess Hera to serve as a slave to the Lydian Queen, Omphale. Nichols spares the reader the more indelicate description of the emasculated and feminized Hercules kneeling and spinning at the Queen’s feet clad in women’s clothing. In light of Saint-Saëns’s fetish for hosting lavish parties dressed in drag, one has to wonder if the legend of Hercules and Omphale didn’t hold some special fascination for him.


Phaëton , Saint-Saëns’s second tone poem, flirts with the subject of father-son relationships and the sometimes tragic consequences that result when the boy grows old enough to challenge the paternal authority figure. Phaëton , son of Helios the sun god, seeks to prove his manhood by piloting the sun chariot across the heavens. So, in effect, he takes the family Ford out for a spin. But he’s not yet the man he thinks he is. Losing control of the chariot’s horses, he draws the sun too close to the earth. To prevent the solar express from crashing and wreaking further catastrophe, Zeus strikes it with a thunderbolt, incinerating the vehicle and killing Phaëton in the process. A sidebar to the story is that the chariot’s near-miss trajectory across the Sahara scorched the land and explains why the Ethiopians are black.


Next we have Saint-Saëns’s answer to Berlioz’s witches, Mussorgsky’s demons, and Liszt’s diableries, the Danse macabre . But leave it to Saint-Saëns to paint his portrait of the dancing dead, to paraphrase Ogden Nash’s verse, as skeletons in the museum hall gathering at midnight for a ball. The scordatura-tuned violin, xylophone, contorted Dies irae , and android-like rhythmic repetitions caused quite a stir, prompting Debussy, one of Saint-Saëns’s most outspoken critics, to declare years later that the piece gave him hope that Saint-Saëns was a very great composer after all.


The three foregoing tone poems are among Saint-Saëns’s more frequently heard and recorded works and, in fact, a number of recordings, some more recent than others, have included two of them in one combination or another on the same disc. Less often does one find all three, and only one other recording I’m familiar with—a composite Saint-Saëns collection assembled from one or more other releases featuring Charles Dutoit leading the Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic orchestras—includes the composer’s fourth and final tone poem as well. Having stripped Hercules of his manhood in Omphale’s Spinning Wheel , Saint-Saëns rehabilitates him in La Jeunesse d’Hercule . Both dramatically and musically, the work is the weakest of the four, which no doubt explains its poor showing in the listings. The story, if it can be called that, involves no action but is rather a depiction of the young hero’s internal philosophical struggle in choosing between a life of pleasure-seeking and a life of virtue. He chooses the latter. It has been noted that the Lisztian tone poem model was a strong influence on Saint-Saëns’s score.


The remaining pieces that fill out the disc are, in some cases quite well known, like the Bacchanal from the composer’s opera Samson et Dalila and the Marche militaire française , which comes from the Suite algérienne . Other pieces are not well known at all but are hardly insubstantial. The Spartacus overture, for example, is a 13-minute score that was written in 1863 but remained unpublished until 1900. It’s a stand-alone grand concert overture that contains some of Saint-Saëns’s most dramatically urgent music.


On a trip to Portugal in 1880, Saint-Saëns dashed off a one-act comic opera with a title that would no doubt offend today’s politically correct sensibilities, La Princesse jaune , about a Japanese princess transplanted through opera magic to the Netherlands. The Lisbon audience apparently loved it, and back in Paris the Opéra-Comique gave four performances of it before the curtain came down on it for good. I note a single recording of the work listed by ArkivMusic, a 1996 live performance from Lugano. Heard here is the six-minute overture to the opera, which provides a taste of what Saint-Saëns must have thought Japanese music sounded like. Don’t expect Puccini.


During the same visit that produced La Princesse jaune , Saint-Saëns scribbled out the three-and-a-half-minute musical watercolor Une nuit à Lisbonne , which he dedicated to Portuguese King Luiz.


The story behind the Marche du couronnement put me in mind of Thomas Beecham’s plaint about British orchestras employing so many third-rate conductors when there were so many second-rate English ones to choose from. Which raises the question, why would the Brits choose a French composer, Saint-Saëns, to write a march for the coronation of Edward VII? Apparently, they didn’t. Saint-Saëns took it entirely upon himself to compose the piece, which, according to the program note, caused a flurry of diplomatic activity at the ambassadorial level between the two countries. For the march, Saint-Saëns borrowed a tune from his opera Henry VIII . If you shouldn’t expect Puccini in Saint-Saëns’s La Princesse jaune , don’t expect Elgar in his Coronation March.


This is mainly a fun disc, but a useful one as well in gathering together all four of Saint-Saëns’s tone poems, plus a generous selection of some of his less familiar orchestral works. It’s also distinguished by outstanding playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra brilliantly led by veteran conductor Neeme Järvi, and as an added bonus, it’s recorded in stunning multichannel sound. Enthusiastically recommended.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Samson et Dalila, Op. 47: Bacchanale by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Written: 1877 
2.
Phaéton, Op. 39 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873; France 
3.
Marche Militaire Française by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; France 
4.
Le rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; France 
5.
La princesse jaune, Op. 30: Overture by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; France 
6.
La jeunesse d'Hercule in E flat major, Op. 50 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; France 
7.
Danse macabre in G minor, Op. 40 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; France 
8.
Une nuit à Lisbonne for Orchestra, Op. 63 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
9.
Spartacus: Marche du couronnement Op. 117 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 

Sound Samples

Samson et Dalila, Op. 47: Act III: Bacchanale
Le rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31
Phaeton, Op. 39
Danse macabre, Op. 40
La jeunesse d'Hercule, Op. 50
Suite algerienne, Op. 60: IV. Marche militaire francaise
La princesse jaune (The Yellow Princess), Op. 30: Overture
Une nuit a Lisbonne in E flat major, Op. 63: Une nuit a Lisbonne, Op. 63
Spartacus
Marche du couronnement, Op. 117

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 It's Okay April 14, 2013 By Richard H. (Glendale, AZ) See All My Reviews "Not much more that I can say about this. I purchased this CD only because I wanted a recording of the Danse Macabre. Aside from that I can take or leave Saint-Saens. Jarvi and the RSNO do a find job as usual." Report Abuse
Review This Title
Review This Title Share on Facebook




YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN TO ARKIVMUSIC STREAMING.
TRY IT NOW FOR FREE!
Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $19.95/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming
Aleady a subscriber? Sign In