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Saint-saŽns: Africa, Jota Aragonese, Etc / Simon, Mok, Et Al


Release Date: 09/18/2007 
Label:  Cala Records   Catalog #: 4031   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Camille Saint-SaŽnsAlexandre Luigini
Performer:  Gwendolyn MokSusan MilanJames CampbellTina Gruenberg,   ... 
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

The ďAfricaĒ Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra...I believe to be one of Saint-Saënsís major works. It is, for all extents and purposes, a piano concerto by another name, and it contains some of the composerís most impressive keyboard-writing.

Saint-Saëns, it is true, outlived most of his critics, but he was perhaps his own worst enemy; for among his many fine works of enduring value there can be found much dross. Undoubtedly, it was his natural geniusóthe gift by which the writing of music comes unbidden and with easeóthat led him to toss off pieces that could be banal and trite. But even at its worst,
Read more Saint-Saënsís music has flair and a melodic charm to it that makes it hard to resist. With the exception of the ďAfricaĒ Fantasy, which is one of the composerís great if lesser-known works, most of the pieces on this disc fall into the category of bonbons and ďSaint-Saëns-lite.Ē

For a staging of Jane Dieulafoyís play Parysatis, Saint-Saëns wrote incidental music to be performed at the Béziers festival in 1902. Four short orchestral excerpts in the form of airs de ballet are heard here. Written in the composerís exotic ďMiddle EasternĒ style, the music is not entirely dissimilar from some of what we hear in Samson et Dalila.

From the Middle East, we travel to Spain for La jota aragonese, a piece based on a traditional Spanish folk dance. Published in 1881, its scoring includes castanets and tambourines for local color.

The Grand Fantasy from Samson et Dalila is not by Saint-Saëns. It is an orchestral potpourri or opera medley (popular at the time) patched together by Alexandre Luigini (1850Ė1907)óof Ballet Égyptien fameóbased on melodies from Saint-Saënsís most popular opera. Whether Saint-Saëns was aware of it, ever heard it, or approved of it, the booklet note doesnít tell us. This was my first encounter with the piece, and I wouldnít call it the high point of the program.

The Tarantelle for flute, clarinet, and orchestra is an early work, first presented in 1857 at a Paris soirée attended by Rossini. Saint-Saëns must surely have been acquainted with Mendelssohnís ďItalianĒ Symphony, for the main theme of the Tarantelle bears a striking resemblance to the symphonyís concluding saltarello movement.

If the Parysatis excerpts are in Saint-Saënsís exotic Middle Eastern mode, and La jota aragonese is in his Spanish mode, the Sarabande and Rigaudon may be said to be in the composerís antique Baroque mode. The Sarabande sets a solo violin against a backdrop of strings only, while the full orchestra joins in for the Rigaudon.

A rarity indeed is Saint-Saënsís Danse macabre as heard here in its version for tenor and orchestra, set to a poem by Henri Cazalis. This version is only once removed from Saint-Saënsís original, which was for voice and piano. The popular orchestra only version apparently came later.

Music and politics rarely mix, and they donít sit particularly well together in the Marche militaire française from Saint-Saënsís Suite algérienne, which weaves traditional Arab melodies into a French military march to depict Algeriaís absorption into France during the period of colonization.

A product of Saint-Saënsís waning years is The Muse and the Poet, a rhapsodic duo for violin, cello, and orchestra in memory of his friend Madame Henry Caruette. Itís a lengthy work that sings sweetly and nostalgically for most of its 15 minutes, but takes a scintillating virtuosic turn towards the end.

Seventh in Saint-Saënsís list of operatic ventures is the five-act Ascanio from which the bouncy Valse-Finale is drawn.

Iíve saved for last the first work on the disc, the ďAfricaĒ Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, for this I believe to be one of Saint-Saënsís major works. It is, for all extents and purposes, a piano concerto by another name, and it contains some of the composerís most impressive keyboard-writing. Written in 1890 while he was on holiday in the Canary Islandsómuch of Saint-Saënsís best music was written on location in exotic placesóthe piece is a brilliant tour-de-force for the soloist with a colorful and often sweeping orchestral accompaniment.

Except for the Fantasy, none of the music here is choice Saint-Saëns, but the disc does contain some rarely heard tidbits, and performances and recording are outstanding. This is a far better and more recommendable release than the companion Requiem and ďOrganĒ Symphony with these same forces. Mainly for the Fantasy, but also to fill in some missing gaps for Saint-Saëns fanciers, recommended.

- Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Issue 31:3 (Jan/Feb 2008)
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Works on This Recording

1. Africa, Op. 89 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Gwendolyn Mok (Piano)
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 11 Minutes 8 Secs. 
2. Parysatis: Airs de Ballet by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 7 Minutes 57 Secs. 
3. Jota aragonese, Op. 64 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 3 Minutes 45 Secs. 
4. Fantasy on themes from Saint-SaŽns' "Samson et Dalila" by Alexandre Luigini
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 13 Minutes 35 Secs. 
5. Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 6 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Susan Milan (Flute), James Campbell (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 5 Minutes 36 Secs. 
6. Sarabande et Rigaudon, Op. 93 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Tina Gruenberg (Violin)
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 8 Minutes 41 Secs. 
7. Danse macabre by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Anthony Roden (Tenor)
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 2 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Language: French 
8. Marche Militaire FranÁaise by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 4 Minutes 20 Secs. 
9. La muse et le poŤte, Op. 132 by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Performer:  Robert Truman (Cello), Stephanie Chase (Violin)
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 15 Minutes 16 Secs. 
10. Ascanio: Valse-Finale by Camille Saint-SaŽns
Conductor:  Geoffrey Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; France 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 3 Minutes 55 Secs. 

Featured Sound Samples

Africa (Saint-SaŽns)
Marche militaire franÁaise (Saint-SaŽns)

Customer Reviews

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