Notes and Editorial Reviews
It's puzzling that Brilliant Classics was unable to get any of the several EMI sets of Saint-Saëns piano concertos to fill out this set, instead of licensing the decent but not terribly special Vox recordings featuring Gabriel Tacchino and Louis de Froment. At this price, however, you can simply consider the works for piano and orchestra as a bonus, and I will instead confine my remarks (and the rating) to the symphonies and violin concertos, which really are excellent performances. Ulf Hoelscher was a very good violinist, perhaps best known for his EMI recording of Korngold's Violin Concerto, for many years the only modern alternative to the old Heifetz on RCA. He was one of those soloists, so common now, who specialized in recording out-of-the-way repertoire, but he did it with uncommon musicality and distinction, and that is certainly the case with these performances. Whether in the familiar Third Concerto, or its less-known predecessors and the shorter pieces, these are uniformly enjoyable interpretations aided in no small degree by having Pierre Dervaux and the New Philharmonia in the mix.
As to the symphonies, Jean Martinon's complete cycle remains the benchmark by which all others must be judged. >From an interpretive point of view, he was something of a French Charles Mackerras: a conductor of wide interests whose interpretive stance combined a scrupulous attention to detail with a secure grasp of structure. He did not personalize his interpretations in the manner of, say, Bernstein or Furtwängler, but the excellent quality of the results that he usually obtained, even with second-rate orchestras, has withstood the test of time very well. Martinon recorded a massive quantity of French repertoire, principally for EMI and Erato, and his discography is one of the more impressive monuments to great conducting, even though it has received comparatively little critical attention over the years.
His "Organ" Symphony, for example, is one of the very best, and this EMI recording is superior to his Erato version. You also couldn't ask for a more forceful advocate for the four neglected remaining symphonies. No. 1 in particular, with its splashy finale including four harps, saxhorns, and other celebratory paraphernalia, is a gem that deserves much wider exposure. The recordings are mostly very good sonically (especially in the "Organ" Symphony), and even where they do show their age the musicianship remains undimmed.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com