SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2. Romance
I think these two discs are rather good. No. Rephrase that. I think they are exceptional. The point is that too many recordings on the Naxos label – and these are prime examples – are taken for granted: little publicity, unknown soloists, second-rank orchestra, unknown conductor. Who is going to pick this up and say that, actually, these performances and the recording quality are up there with the very best and, in some instances, surpass their rivals? Substitute Mrs Star Name for Tianwa Yang and Mr Star Name for Gabriel Schwabe and I suspect there would be greater interest and a very different critical reaction. Apart from that, it is rare to find a disc with almost all of Saint-Saëns’s works for violin and orchestra (apart from the concertos) on a single disc; and I have not found another anywhere that has his complete works for cello and orchestra.
The new disc of the latter is presumably intended by Naxos to be a replacement for one over 20 years old with Maria Kliegel and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta of blessed memory featuring exactly the same repertoire but with the 3'05" addition of a version for cello and orchestra of the Romance in F, Op 36 (1874). I was very taken by Gabriel Schwabe (b1988). So often the opening of the Cello Concerto No 1 comes across as hectic and blustering; likewise the Allegro appassionato can be merely breathless and brilliant. Schwabe plays with a light heart and produces a light, airy tone to match, combined with a nonchalance and poise that I found most attractive (I’d love to hear him in the two Vieuxtemps concertos). And if the first four of the Suite’s five movements are not Saint Saëns’s finest hour, the concluding Tarentelle should surely be heard more often. To this, Marc Soustrot brings an irresistible élan and punch to proceedings.
Schwabe is also the cello duettist with Tianwa Yang in La Muse et le poète on the violin disc. Yang is another young artist who deserves to be more widely known (though fiddle fanciers will no doubt have swooped already on her complete Sarasate works for violin and orchestra, also on Naxos). She has such a sweet tone (try the opening of the Havanaise) and her performance of the less familiar Morceau de concert made me properly register the work for the first time. For pure bravura, listen to the coda of the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, which is dispatched with a speed that almost matches Heifetz (1935 with Barbirolli), and with astonishing articulation and even great clarity. I might add that for both discs the producer, engineer and editor is Sean Lewis. A tip of the hat to him and all concerned.