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Saint-Saens: Symphony No 1, Cello Concerto / Dumay

Saint-saens / Gomziakov / Kansai Philharmonic
Release Date: 06/12/2012 
Label:  Onyx   Catalog #: 4091   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Augustin DumayPavel Gomziakov
Conductor:  Sachio FujiokaAugustin Dumay
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SAINT-SAËNS Symphony No. 1. Cello Concerto No. 1. La Muse et le Poète 1 Augustin Dumay (vn, cond); 1 Sachio Fujioka, cond; Pavel Gomziakov (vc); Kansai PO ONYX 4091 (64:13)

Hard on the heels of Brilliant Classics’s repackaging of Saint-Saëns’s complete symphonies with Jean Martinon and the ORTF National Orchestra comes this brand-new recording of the composer’s First Read more Symphony led by Augustin Dumay. I have to admit that before receiving this release I knew Dumay only from several of his recordings that feature him in his better-known role as a violinist. But I suppose it’s not surprising that Dumay, like so many other celebrated instrumentalists, should turn to conducting. On this release, we get to hear him in both capacities, for he relinquishes the baton to Sachio Fujioka and takes up the violin to join cellist Pavel Gomziakov in Saint-Saëns’s La Muse et le Poète , a single-movement work for violin, cello, and orchestra.

The piece carries an opus number of 132 and dates from 1910, fairly late in the composer’s career. Conceived as a piano trio, La Muse et le Poète —its title is believed to be the invention of publisher Jacques Durand—was written in Luxor, Egypt, during one of the composer’s frequent African sojourns. The orchestral setting is Saint-Saëns’s own, and is a fairly straightforward transcription of the original piano part. Lengthwise, the piece is not insignificant, lasting some 16 and a half minutes, but in terms of substance, I’d describe it as part teardrop preserved in amber alternating with sudden eruptions of seemingly superfluous virtuosic fireworks. The only reason I can fathom for its half-dozen or so previous recordings is that it’s an unusual concerted duo for violin and cello that affords both solo instruments the opportunity to display their technical abilities. But sometimes I think that Saint-Saëns’s reputation as a composer might actually be enhanced rather than diminished if he hadn’t written half the works he did, and this is one of them.

While I wouldn’t consign the composer’s First Symphony to the same reject pile as La Muse , it has been so eclipsed by the towering Third Symphony that those who are unfamiliar with it would probably not recognize it as being by the same composer. The E?-Major Symphony, published as op. 2, is not Saint-Saëns’s first attempt at a symphony, but it’s still a very early work, dating from 1853 when the composer was only 18. In its forward-pressing moments of dramatic urgency, the score shows the strong influence of Mendelssohn; in its lighter, breezier, tuneful moments, there are echoes of Berlioz. Interestingly, two symphonies by two other composers that hadn’t been written yet but would be within two years of Saint-Saëns’s symphony—those by Bizet and Gounod—also seem to be anticipated in this early effort. If you can listen to this work without faulting it for not measuring up to the much later “Organ” Symphony, you’ll find it’s a very well-made and attractive score on its own.

Of the three works on the disc, the A-Minor Cello Concerto is by far the best-known and the most widely performed. Cellist Pavel Gomziakov launches into the concerto at a tempo that almost seems to defy playability, but play it he does, and with extraordinary panache. Dumay provides him with exceptionally strong, rhythmically attentive accompaniment that gives Saint-Saëns’s orchestral writing in this score more of a symphonic dimension than is often heard.

Michael Ullman reviewed in these pages a two-disc Chopin set from Maria João Pires in which Gomziakov joins her in a performance of Chopin’s cello sonata. Ullman calls the vibrant young cellist a special treat, and I couldn’t agree more. There are a lot of recordings of Saint-Saëns’s A-Minor Cello Concerto to choose from, but this one, just in terms of Gomziakov’s technical execution, is jaw-dropping. But his gorgeous tone and melting way with the tender, lyrical passages are pure magic. To which I would add that I’ve never heard the orchestral part sound as pellucid and detailed as it does under Dumay’s direction.

For the concerto alone, I give this a five-star recommendation, but it comes with an equally illuminating performance of Saint-Saëns’s First Symphony, which may make you reassess your thoughts about this delightful early work.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

La muse et le počte, Op. 132 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Augustin Dumay (Violin), Pavel Gomziakov (Cello)
Conductor:  Sachio Fujioka
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; France 
Date of Recording: 05/2011 
Venue:  Izumi Hall, Osaka, Japan 
Length: 16 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello no 1 in A minor, Op. 33 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Pavel Gomziakov (Cello)
Conductor:  Augustin Dumay
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; France 
Date of Recording: 05/2011 
Venue:  Izumi Hall, Osaka, Japan 
Length: 18 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Symphony no 1 in E flat major, Op. 2 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Augustin Dumay
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; France 
Date of Recording: 11/2011 
Venue:  Izumi no Mori Hall, Osaka 
Length: 29 Minutes 15 Secs. 

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