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Notes and Editorial Reviews
It is unfortunate that Saint-Saëns is celebrated for only a relatively small part of his prolific output; namely the Tone Poem: Danse macabre, the Symphony No. 3 ‘Organ’ and The Swan, from the Carnival of the Animals. However the music of this multi-talented composer has for a number of years been undergoing a welcome resurgence. Hyperion have been partly responsible for this in the form of their thanks award-winning set of The Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra recorded in 2000-01 by Stephen Hough and the CBSO under Sakari Oramo on CDA67331/2. One only has to hear the two Piano Trios to be aware of the magnificent scores that await general discovery. Thankfully this anthology of previously released material from the Erato label,
now available on this super-budget priced Warner Classics Apex disc, will go a long way to assist the composer’s case. In short these chamber works are simply superb and this set is one of my records of the year.
Saint-Saëns wrote his passionate first Violin Sonata in 1885 whilst at the height of his compositional powers, which was around the time of the famous Carnival of the Animals and the celebrated ‘Organ’ Symphony. By the time of the first Violin Sonata he was now a most experienced composer for the violin having written his three Violin Concertos and the celebrated Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra. This is a fine performance from the admirable team of violinist Olivier Charlier and pianist Jean Hubeau who are most natural and never over-project their expression. I particularly enjoyed their interpretation of the first movement Allegro agitato which for the first time in this work allows me to hear impressionist suggestions.
Composed in 1896 the second Violin Sonata is more classical in approach yet is no less engaging especially in a performance as fine as this. The third movement Andante is especially well performed, long on expression and short on self-indulgence. Overall there is a strong sense of assurance and conviction from the well matched soloists which is both gratifying and admirable.
In spite of the considerable merits of this version from Charlier and Hubeau on Apex the heightened sense of engagement and extra tenderness on the splendid new recording of the first Saint-Saëns Violin Sonata from Sarah Chang and Lars Vogt on EMI Classics 5 57679 2 remains my leading recommendation. The attractive coupling of the Franck and Ravel Violin Sonatas add to the appeal of the EMI Classics release.
Composed over a span of fifty years the four Pieces for Violin and Piano; the Berceuse, the two Elegies and the Romance are wonderful scores that are more than mere miniatures and deserve to be better known in the chamber repertoire. The gifted soloists offer really delightful interpretations of these enchanting and often beautiful scores.
Refined, inventive and of the highest musical calibre the String Quartets No. 1 in E minor and No. 2 in G major are products of the composer’s full maturity. For me they demand repeated plays before completely revealing their manifold rewards to the listener. Composed when Saint-Saëns was aged 65 the four movement String Quartet No. 1 has been described as, ‘a beautifully proportioned work’. My personal highlight is the supremely expressive manner that the magnificent Quatuor Viotti bring to the first movement Allegro which projects a pastoral mood that could have emanated from the pen’s of Howells or Delius. A ‘model of clarity’, the three movement String Quartet No. 2 was one of the composer’s very last compositions. Really striking is the exceptional and charming central movement Molto adagio which I would describe as a true masterpiece. The playing of Quatuor Viotti has great warmth with considerable finesse and refinement throughout.
I remain impressed with the interpretations of the two Saint-Saëns String Quartets by the Medici String Quartet on Koch Schwann 3-6484-2 from 1997. However these two accounts by Quatuor Viotti are now the ones to have for their high calibre of playing and for their masterful penetration into the very heart of the scores.
I found the recorded sound satisfactory demonstrating a bright piano compared to a slightly dry but pleasing violin tone. Concise, interesting and informative annotation.
Simply wonderful chamber works superbly performed. An indispensable release.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Superb July 24, 2012
By Anthony G. (valley stream, NY) See All My Reviews
"Anything, and everything, Saint-Saens composed was magnificent. Not a dull, redundant, or boring passage ever issued from his pen. He was a genius (not celebrated enough), and this music gives us a glimpse of his extraordinary capabilities. Simply put: irresistible, accessible,GREAT music that you will enjoy at first hearing. Then, you will listen to it a second, third, fourth,...time. Listening to Saint Saens is addictive and this is one of the most intoxicating set of pieces he has ever written. The Viotti Quartet plays divinely. I would buy all of their renditions if I could. Keep a look out for their discography as well as that of Saint-Saens."
A must listen if playing this quartet July 6, 2012
By Deborah M. (Honolulu, HI) See All My Reviews
"We were to perform the 1st movement of Saint-Saen's Quartet No.2 this summer and our 1st violinist was unavailable for rehearsal due to her work schedule. Listening to this recording helped me prepare for our one-and-only rehearsal! The recording is excellent and the composition delightful!"