Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Concertos: No. 1 in a; No. 2 in d. Cello Sonata No. 1 in c.
The Carnival of the Animals
Jamie Walton (vc); Alex Briger, cond; Philharmonia O; Daniel Grimwood (pn)
QUARTZ 2039 (58:47)
Saint-Saëns addressed the cello in formal works specifically designated for it in two sets of
alternating couples an early sonata and concerto both conceived in close conjunction and published with consecutive opus numbers (32 and 33 respectively); and then in reverse order, a much later concerto and sonata, again closely juxtaposed in time and opus numbers (119 and 123 respectively). As pairs of nearly twinned siblings, however, all of these works are born of very different personalities. Welcome as this new release is, Walton could have hit a home run instead of a triple, had he killed "The Swan" and offered the later sonata instead. There would have been space for it on the disc, and it would have made for a truly fascinating, if not unique, recording of all four of these contrasting works on a single CD. Besides, we all know that
The Carnival of the Animals
from whence The Swan, comes is no more a work for cello than is Rossini's Overture to
, which also happens to feature an extended passage for the orchestra?s principal cellist.
The A-Minor Concerto, which has long been enormously popular, is all lightness and froth, and, for a concerto, uncommonly short. The C-Minor Sonata, in contrast, is a rather more serious sounding work that is not only dramatic, urgent, and bold, but speaks in accents that echo Brahms and that prefigure Fauré.
The D-Minor Concerto, dating from 1902, gives the impression of having been more effortful in the making than much else of Saint-Saëns?s music, its melodic and harmonic invention sounding rather more stilted and contrived than what we are used to hearing from this composer. And, according to Walton?s own program note, the work poses significant effort in the playing of it as well, being one of the more technically taxing concertos in the repertoire. These factors combined probably explain why far fewer cellists have taken it up compared to the A-Minor Concerto, and why recordings of the First Concerto outnumber the Second by nearly six to one. Still, it has its charms, not least of which is its rhapsodic Andante sostenuto.
Composers throughout history have attempted to write music that somehow projected the character traits of various animal species. None, in my opinion, has ever drawn a more accurate and comical musical cartoon than Rameau in his fowl fandango,
. No one can listen to this piece and not know what it portrays. Other caricatures, including Saint-Saëns's The Swan, are less graphic and more subject to individual listener's interpretations. I suspect one could listen to this piece without knowing what it was, and just as easily imagine a hot air balloon sailing over the New Mexico desert. The entertainment value of the piece is not so much in its depiction of a graceful bird gliding across the water, as it is in recognizing Saint-Saëns's subtle and sly poke at Tchaikovsky?s
. I was stunned to discover a lamentation of over 200 Swans currently cohabiting in the catalog, which reinforces my earlier observation that we could have done without another Swan, and welcomed instead the Second Sonata, for which I see only three current listings.
That grumble aside, youthful looking Brit Jamie Walton is an exceptionally talented cellist whose playing makes this disc a real pleasure. He is endowed with solid technique and a rich, vibrant tone, and has many distinguished concert, broadcast, recital, and festival appearances already to his credit, as well as several recordings on the Somm label. The recording is bright, but does not spotlight the cello in front of the orchestra in a larger-than-life way; it sounds very natural. Daniel Grimwood, who accompanies in the sonata and ?The Swan, molds himself to Walton like a body glove. Recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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