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Gemini - Saint-saëns: Piano Concertos No 1-5, Etc / Collard


Release Date: 02/15/2005 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 86245   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 37 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

These classic recordings of Saint-Saëns’s piano concertos have been around the block more than once since they first appeared c. 1985. But here they are again in EMI’s “Gemini Treasury” series, which I take to mean twin sets for the price of one.

Poor Saint-Saëns can claim the dubious distinction of having been one of the most reviled composers in his own lifetime. Cheerfully, he can also claim the revenge of having lived long enough to see most of his detractors dead and buried. One need look no further than a February 19, 1896, entry in London’s Saturday Review by J. F. Runciman to get a taste of some of the more vicious barbs: “It is one’s duty to hate with all possible fervor the empty and ugly in art; and I hate
Read more Saint-Saëns the composer with a hate that is perfect.” What was the source of such enmity? A combination, I think, of professional jealousies, abuse of power, and ideological intractability. As editor, writer, and founder of the Société Nationale de Musique, Saint-Saëns was in a position to wield great influence over France’s musical scene, especially opera; and his classical predilections, criticism of Wagner, and savaging of some of his modernist contemporaries ruffled a lot of feathers. But perhaps most aggravating was the coupling of a natural talent and facility for churning out reams of incredibly beautiful music—he came to be called the “French Mendelssohn”—with an equally incredible backward-looking close-mindedness and bent towards advancing his own views as the only ones acceptable. Nor did it help matters any that his somewhat flamboyant personality and eccentric behavior were interpreted by some as flaunting himself in the face of his detractors. In short, Saint-Saëns may have been a master of musical arts, but he was not very masterful when it came to winning friends and influencing people.

The question, I think, that has as yet to receive a definitive answer is, “was Saint-Saëns truly a great composer, or is his music merely pretty and deserving of the charge of ‘spiritual and intellectual poverty and hopeless emptiness’ (New York Tribune, 1879) that contemporary critics lodged against it?” Was the extraordinary facility mere facileness? I suspect the question will not be answered here or anytime soon. But if Saint-Saëns can lay claim to greatness, surely much of it lies in his five piano concertos. Each of them is a perfect soufflé made up of all the composer’s signature ingredients: memorable melodies, razzle-dazzle keyboard scintillations, dramatic orchestral tuttis, striding chorales, and urbane wit and charm, all of which are polished with unerring craftsmanship.

The concertos have enjoyed mostly good fortune on disc, going back to the mid-1950s EMI mono recordings with Jean-Marie Darré, and Gabriel Tacchino’s essaying of them for Vox. In the late 1970s, Pascal Rogé made his contribution to the discography on Decca. These sets are still available, and at budget prices. Much more recently (2000), Stephen Hough’s entry on Hyperion appeared. It, of course, is full-priced and pricey, though superbly well done. An even newer release (2003) I just recently acquired is Volume 1 of what promises to be the complete set with Anna Malikova on an Audite SACD, and it is phenomenal. The Collard set, as mentioned in the beginning, has been around for 20 years now, so my guess is that many readers will already have this set in their collections. If you don’t, the sound is good modern stereo, a young Collard is totally in control, and Previn whips up a fine meringue.

Of the two fillers, the Caprice-Valse, known as the “Wedding Cake,” is a piece of pure chiffon concocted for the marriage of Saint-Saëns’s pianist friend Caroline Montigny-Rémaury. I hope her marriage was of more lasting substance than this piece. The Africa fantasy is a bit more substantive, inspired by the composer’s long-time fascination with Africa (he died there in Algiers, in 1921). Allegedly, the piece is based on a Tunisian folk song, but it sounds to me as much like Saint-Saëns as Dvo?ák’s “native American” mode sounds Czech. If you don’t already have Saint-Saëns’s piano concertos, this is a fine choice, and the price is right.

Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1. Concerto for Piano no 1 in D major, Op. 17 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1858; France 
2. Concerto for Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 22 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; France 
3. Concerto for Piano no 3 in E flat major, Op. 29 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1869; France 
4. Concerto for Piano no 4 in C minor, Op. 44 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; France 
5. Concerto for Piano no 5 in F major, Op. 103 "Egyptian" by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; France 
6. Wedding Cake for Piano and String Orchestra in A flat major, Op. 76 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885; France 
7. Africa, Op. 89 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Jean-Philippe Collard (Piano)
Conductor:  André Previn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; France 

Sound Samples

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D Op. 17: I. Andante - Allegro assai
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D Op. 17: II. Andante sostenuto quasi adagio
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D Op. 17: III. Allegro con fuoco
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in G minor Op. 22: I. Andante sostenuto
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in G minor Op. 22: II. Allegro scherzando
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in G minor Op. 22: III. Presto
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in C minor Op. 44: I. Allegro moderato - Andante
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in C minor Op. 44: II. Allegro vivace - Andante - Allegro
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in E flat Op. 29: I. Moderato assai - Più mosso (Allegro maestoso)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in E flat Op. 29: II. Andante
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in E flat Op. 29: III. Allegro non troppo
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in F, 'Egyptian' Op. 103: I. Allegro animato
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in F, 'Egyptian' Op. 103: II. Andante - Allegretto tranquillo quasi andantino
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in F, 'Egyptian' Op. 103: III. Molto allegro
Wedding Cake in A flat Op. 76
Africa - Fantaisie

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