Notes and Editorial Reviews
*** We're sorry, but this title is sold out at the clearance price. ***
Complete Chamber Music with Winds
Members of the Paris O
INDÉSENS 021 (2 CDs: 114:26)
Romance for Horn and Piano,
Clarinet, Flute, and Piano,
The Carnival of the Animals:
“The Swan”; “The Elephant.”
Romance for Flute and Piano,
for Trombone and Piano,
Romance for Horn and Piano,
Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs,
Samson et Dalila:
My Heart Opens up to the Sound of Your Voice.
for Bassoon and Piano,
for Flute and Piano,
This is a companion release to Indésens’s two-CD set of Poulenc’s chamber music for winds reviewed elsewhere. But for the addition of Yves d’Hau on contrabassoon and a rotation of pianists, the same Paris Orchestra players are featured here as in the Poulenc collection. This time “complete” appears to mean what it says, for I believe the headnote does include all of Saint-Saëns’s chamber works with winds, and then some. Inclusion of the two numbers from
The Carnival of the Animals
—“The Swan,” originally for cello, played on a double bass, and “The Elephant,” originally for double bass, played on a contrabassoon—as well as the transcription for bassoon of the second-act aria from
Samson et Dalila
basically comes under the category of “let’s do it because it sounds like fun, and besides, Saint-Saëns wouldn’t have minded.” Perhaps not, but it does seem a bit silly, especially in the case of
on a double bass. This is, after all, supposed to be a collection of wind works, and the last time I checked the double bass wasn’t a member of the wind family. The other transcriptions can at least be justified on grounds that they are for wind instruments.
Well, enough of that. Everything else in this compilation, with but one exception, is fairly familiar, having been well documented on record. The one item you will not find listed under Saint-Saëns’s chamber music is
, and that’s because it’s actually a short work for flute and orchestra. The arrangement for flute and piano heard here was made by the composer, but it’s rarely recorded, the original orchestral version being preferred.
The E?-Major Septet for string quartet, double bass, trumpet, and piano is one of Saint-Saëns’s most delightful chamber works. My introduction to it came via a 1977 EMI recording with Maurice André, Michel Beroff, Jean-Philippe Collard, and company. It’s still available by special order from ArkivMusic and as an import from Amazon. It includes a spirited performance of
The Carnival of the Animals
in a chamber rather than full orchestra version. Unfortunately, besides the short playing time, the sound quality of the recording was not great to begin with and more recent releases have eclipsed it. When EMI tried again in 2003 with Michel Dalberto, Frank Braley, and the Capuçon brothers, the company not only added much more music to the disc but produced a much better-sounding recording. The Nash Ensemble has also made a couple of runs at the piece, once for Virgin Classics and then in 2004 for a two-disc Hyperion compilation of Saint-Saëns’s chamber works.
The highly unusual instrumentation of the Septet, which calls for a trumpet that sticks out like a sore thumb in what is otherwise a work for strings and piano, has a simple explanation. The piece was commissioned by Emile Lemoine on behalf of a chamber-music society calling itself “La Trompette.” The Septet, like a number of other works by the composer, takes the form of a neobaroque suite with a good deal of contrapuntal calisthenics. The current performance featuring trumpeter Frédéric Mellardi is the best I’ve heard yet. Its frivolity and mock earnestness are maintained in perfect balance by fluid playing and a detailed, transparent recording.
Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs
is another of Saint-Saëns’s chamber works that gained a good deal of popularity, so much so that he arranged it for two pianos. The original scoring is for flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano. It was a wilted wedding bouquet delivered to the Danish princess several years
her marriage to the Czar of Russia. Perhaps Saint-Saëns was miffed that he hadn’t been invited to the royal nuptials.
In the last year of his life, 1921, Saint-Saëns composed three sonatas for wind instruments, one each for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Interestingly, just a few years earlier, in the last years of his life, Debussy had also planned a cycle of sonatas, six in all, the last three of which were to have been for oboe, horn, and harpsichord; for trumpet, clarinet, bassoon, and piano; and a final sonata that would have included all the instruments from the five earlier sonatas. Unfortunately, he died before these last three were realized. Only the first three—for cello and piano; for flute, viola, and harp; and for violin and piano—were written. Some 40 years later, another major French composer, Poulenc, would also pen his valedictory with four works for winds—three sonatas for clarinet, flute, and oboe, and the
for horn. The 100-year span between Saint-Saëns’s earliest works on this release and the last works by Poulenc represents a golden age in the production of French music for wind instruments, an age encompassed by composers such as Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Ibert, d’Indy, and Françaix.
There are, to be sure, other collections that cover just Saint-Saëns’s chamber works with winds or a mix of wind and non-wind works to be considered, including the Nash Ensemble’s two-CD offering on Hyperion, reviewed in
29:1, and an excellent single CD featuring the Ensemble Villa Music on MDG. But none is better played than this one featuring principals from the Paris Orchestra, and none is as inclusive. If you’d like to have all of Saint-Saëns’s chamber works with winds, including some that have been transcribed from other sources, and all together on just two discs, I can think of no better way to acquire them. Excellent performances and recording as well add up to a strong recommendation.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title