Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: Nos 1–3
Fanny Clamagirand (vn); Patrick Gallois, cond; Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä
NAXOS 8.572037 (72:30)
Although Camille Saint-Saëns wrote three concertos for violin, the Third, along with his earlier
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso
have become the trio beloved of violinists and audiences alike. Only a few violinists,
including Jacques Thibaud, Ruggiero Ricci, and Kyung-Wha Chung, adopted the First Concerto (actually the Second) in A Major, while the Second Concerto, outside a VoxBox 2-CDX 5084 performance by Ricci, remained for a long time in virtual limbo. Later recordings by Jean-Jacques Kantarow (the First Concerto on BIS 0860,
21:6; the Second on BIS 1060,
25:5; and the Third on BIS 1470,
30:6) included all three works, but not on one disc. Naxos, which previously offered an idiomatic performance of the Third Concerto by Dong-Suk Kang (Naxos 8.550752,
18:2), has now released all three together. Fanny Clamagirand, the young violinist assigned to the project, plays the Third Concerto with Grumiaux’s insinuating sweetness (he recorded the work twice with the Lamoureux Orchestra, first with Jean Fournet in June 1954 and second with Manuel Rosenthal in December 1963, the latter reissued on Philips Eloquence 8561,
31:4) rather than Francescatti’s edgily Gallic wit or Milstein’s magisterial nobility. (The program proceeds in reverse order of familiarity, from the popular Third through the neglected First to the abandoned Second.) That comparison endures through the first movement, which Clamagirand plays boldly but mellifluously, through the second, into which she introduces a gently rocking, wistful melancholy equal to Grumiaux’s (concluding with a redolent rendition of the duet for violin in harmonics and clarinet), and the finale (in which she seems at once more playful and more relaxed than did Grumiaux). In general, she draws a warm tone, particularly throaty in the lower registers, from the 1700 Matteo Gofriller violin upon which she plays, even if the instrument doesn’t always seem sufficiently capacious tonally for the finale’s opening dramatic declamation. Patrick Gallois and the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä accompany her as atmospherically as Fournet and the Lamoureux Orchestra did Grumiaux.
While Ricci took the opening chords of the First Concerto as an invitation to slash and burn, Clamagirand breaks them in a more leisurely, if not quite indolent, manner. (That’s the beginning and the end of her idiosyncratic ideas in this concerto.) As did Thibaud (in a live performance on both Malibran-Music 150 and APR 5644,
28:1), she realizes much of the opulent sensuousness of the subsidiary theme, but even though Thibaud’s game may have been a bit off live in 1953, Clamagirand’s surely isn’t, so the seductiveness doesn’t seem so much like a decadent, guilty pleasure. Again and again, one of her subtle gestures (no flamboyant swooping here) seems to speak volumes, and the purity of her tone in the upper registers enhances the impact of a phrase.
In the opening of the Second Concerto, in which the violin sweeps along virtuosically before striking a more expressive vein, Clamagirand makes a stronger impact than did Ricci, whose equally virtuosic though less opulent manner created from these passages more a dry, leaf-scattering autumn wind rather than a humid summer gust. Still, many may feel that even Clamagirand’s sympathetic approach (which rises to the heroic in the first movement and luxuriates lyrically in the second) can’t breathe life into the less strongly characterized thematic material, particularly perhaps in the finale.
Philippe Graffin recorded all three concertos (Hyperion CDA7074, reviewed by David K. Nelson and Ian Lace in
23:3) and Liviu Prunaru followed with Lawrence Foster on Claves CD-50-2210,
26:5. In discussing Jean-Jacques Kantorow’s performances of several of Saint-Saëns’s works for violin and orchestra in
25:5, I suggested that Ricci had provided more voltage, and Graffin more atmosphere. In reviewing Prunaru’s set, I ranked his readings of all three concertos among the best, blending “Ricci’s almost reckless technical panache with Graffin’s fastidious attention to expressive detail.” But Clamagirand makes as strong and idiomatic an impression (except perhaps for what might seem to be her ungainly entrance in the First Concerto), and violinistically, even a stronger one at climactic moments.
Strongly recommended for its soaring performances, in lively recorded sound. Fanny Clamagirand seems to have all the prerequisites for a strong violinistic personality—at least as strong as Grumiaux’s or Stern’s. Time after time, I listen to performances that seem convincing until I check my impressions by listening to one of the violinists of the golden age, at which time the star of the new performer suddenly seems to shine less brilliantly. I can’t believe that that will happen for most listeners with Fanny Clamagirand. Urgently recommended for that reason alone.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
This recording has a lot of competition. Even Naxos have two other versions of the Third Concerto available: Grumiaux in their Classical Archives series (9.80608), and the 1994 Dong-Suk Kang recording (8.550752), which might well have been the first version owned by many listeners. Does it make sense to market another CD of these works, particularly of the Third? In the current financial climate, almost certainly not - neither Fanny Clamagirand nor the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, nor indeed Patrick Gallois, can really be considered names sufficiently 'big' to trigger loyalty buying.
Fortunately for music-lovers, Naxos often appear not to let profitability be their chief concern. Curious as it may seem, this appears to be their first recording of the First and Second Concertos. More to the point, this is a CD crammed with beautiful music.
Clamagirand has a fine, warm tone, ideal for this kind of music. This is her first major recording for Naxos - previously appearing only as soloist in Georges Taconet's Violin Sonata on Marco Polo in 2005. On this form, it is a safe bet that it will not be her last. Few outside Finland will likely be very familiar with the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä; their name will not roll off the tongues of many non-Finns! Yet the group has been making music for half a century or so and their Naxos CDs of Haydn, Kraus, Witt, Gounod and Gershwin, have been reviewed here. Their experience shows in these recordings: they deliver practically faultless performances, deftly guided by the reliable Patrick Gallois.
Saint-Saëns may not be the most profound of composers, but as an inventive melodist he is virtually unsurpassed. Many music-lovers will be familiar with the Third Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61, particularly the gorgeous slow(ish) movement; it still finds an occasional spot in the concert repertoire. Yet the other two concertos also deserve a place, written as they are with listener enjoyment in mind, rather than intellectual dissection. The First (published) Concerto in A, op.20is better described as concise rather than short. Bright and instantly memorable, it would make a superb encore piece for the intrepid concert soloist. The Second (published) Concerto in C, op.58 is, despite the opus number, a relatively early work, written a year before the First. It is both stylish and dramatic, particularly in the first movement - which is actually longer than the First Concerto - and the unusual, almost Sicilian-sounding second.
The recording is very good, with an excellent balance between orchestra and soloist. For good measure and no obvious reason, there is a postcard-style photo of the Seine at dusk on the CD cover.
As far as this disc is concerned, no one should let the Naxos price differential be the only consideration: this is quality music in quality performances.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
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