Top 10 Saint-Saëns recordings

Gramophone Thu 28th April 2016

There's much more to Saint-Saëns than the Carnival of the Animals, as these outstanding recordings amply demonstrate

Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra

Stephen Hough pf CBSO / Sakari Oramo

(Hyperion)

'My first impression of coolness and a slight reserve was soon banished by a recognition that Hough's voice is ideally pitched. He commands the range of the big statements‚ whatever their character‚ as well as sparkle and panache‚ a sense of drama and seemingly inexhaustible stamina; and he can charm. Yet perhaps most delightful is the lightness and clarity of his decorative playing: even when subservient to the orchestra one notices that every note of his roulades and filigree comes up glistening...' Read the review

 

Cello Concertos. Carnival of the Animals. Africa. Wedding Cake

Truls Mørk vc Louis Lortie pf Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Neeme Järvi

(Chandos)

'This is one of those recordings where it seems invidious to look for faults and which just encourages you to sit back, relax, listen and wallow. Mørk brings his characteristic incisiveness and mountain-spring tone to the concertos, adopting somewhat broader tempi in all three movements of the A minor (No 1) than such rivals as Steven Isserlis and Jamie Walton (their timings are remarkably similar). Conversely, in the fluctuating pulse of the first movement of the D minor (No 2), Mørk is slightly brisker...' Read the review

 

Symphony No 3, 'Organ'

Olivier Latry org The Philadelphia Orchestra / Christoph Eschenbach

(Ondine)

'The organ shows its stature (the booklet tells us that, with 6938 pipes, it is the largest concert-hall organ in the US) with palpable depth in the first movement and majestic presence in the finale; but the real star of the show here is the Philadelphia Orchestra itself. Mouth-watering wind solos, gorgeous string-playing and a wonderfully crisp and cohesive sound (as it must be in what sounds a dreadfully dry acoustic) combine to create rather more memorable moments than we have a right to expect; the string entry just before the close of the first section is, as they say, to die for...' Read the review

 

Carnival of the Animals

Soloists include Renaud Capuçon vn Gautier Capuçon vc Frank Braley, Michel Dalberto pfs Emmanuel Pahud fl 

(Virgin Classics)

"‘What hard things,’ wrote Saint-Saëns, ‘have been said against virtuosity!… The fact must be proclaimed from the house-tops – in art a difficulty overcome is a thing of beauty.’ There are many such beauties in Carnival of the Animals, and their difficulties are not for the faint-hearted, especially where the two pianists are concerned. On this disc, not only are the difficulties overcome, they are dispatched with tremendous verve and wit...' Read the review 

 

Chamber Music

Nash Ensemble

(Hyperion)

'Saint-Saëns’s chamber music fares better in the concert hall than the recording studio, perhaps because musicians tend to listen less to academic name-calling (‘conservative’, ‘too prolific’) than to the music itself. The three late wind sonatas have received far fewer recordings than their status as repertoire staples deserves. Try the kinky-Baroque first movement of the Oboe Sonata, jauntily phrased by Gareth Hulse, or the animato second of the Clarinet Sonata, garbed in rich Mozartian cloth by Richard Hosford. My own favourite is the Bassoon Sonata, for its fresh and gentle wit and skirting of cliché: Ursula Leveaux does it proud, with especially luscious tone in the opening Allegretto...' Read the review

 

Piano Trios

Florestan Trio

(Hyperion)

'Well, the Florestan Trio have done it again – if this disc doesn’t at least win a Gramophone Award nomination, I’ll eat my hat. Indeed, such is the cumulative emotional impact of these performances that, I don’t mind admitting, I wept during the wonderful fortissimo climax of the E minor trio’s first movement – that even before the astonishing intensity of the final, precipitous Allegro...' Read the review

 

Samson et Dalila

Domingo, Meier, Fondary, Courtis, Ramey; Orchestra & Chorus of the Opera Bastille / Myung-Whun Chung

(EMI/Warner Classics)

'Without doubt this is the most subtly and expertly conducted performance of this work to appear on CD, excellent as others have been in this respect, and also the best played and sung. Chung's achievement is to have welded the elements of pagan ruthlessness, erotic stimulation and Wagnerian harmony that comprise Saint-Saëns's masterpiece into a convincing whole. His success is based on the essentials of a firm sense of rhythm and timing allied to a realization of the sensuousness and delicacy of the scoring...' Read the review

 

Piano Concerto No 2. The Swan

Benjamin Grosvenor pf RLPO / James Judd

(Decca)

'In Saint-Saëns’s Second (the one that goes from Bach to Offenbach) he opens with a rhetorical grandeur before setting the keyboard ablaze with a burst of swaggering, supercharged virtuosity. He has technique to burn and his pungency and force are things to marvel at (Cziffra would surely have sensed a pianist after his own heart, though Grosvenor’s focus and discipline are the reverse of gypsy abandon). His rip-roaring Presto finale leaves others standing and never for a moment is he afraid to dare to speak out and be himself...' Read the review

 

Cello Sonatas

Christian Poltera vc Kathryn Stott pf

(Chandos)

'The chief interest lies in the two sonatas. The First in C minor is, within the context of Saint-Saëns’s long life, a fairly early work, written in 1872 when he was in his mid-30s. It combines passion, energy and rigour in the two outer movements, with a central one that envelops a chorale-like theme in a mood of solemn reflectiveness. Saint-Saëns certainly knew how to tap the technical resources of his soloists and Poltéra and Stott are as one in playing some fleet, taxing passagework with fluency and power, Poltéra’s mellow tone adding a dimension of poignancy and shapely phrasing that traces and defines the music’s surging contours...' Read the review

 

Piano Quartets

Mozart Piano Quartet

(Dabringhaus und Grimm)

'The Mozart Piano Quartet play both quartets with considerable élan, evoking the spirit of their namesake in Saint-Saëns’s beautifully balanced, often gossamer textures. Where power is required, though, as in the outer movements of Op 41 (and, perhaps surprisingly, at the climax of the Andante maestoso ma con moto), they respond with assurance. The delightful makeweight of the Barcarolle completes a splendid disc...' Read the review

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