Saint-Saëns Cello Sonatas Nos 1 and 2
Inevitably, “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals features on this disc of Saint-Saëns’s cello music – and it is played with gliding, liquid lyricism by Swiss cellist Christian Poltéra across the smooth surface of Kathryn Stott’s arpeggios. But 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.
Some three decades after the First Sonata, Saint-Saëns wrote the Second in F (1905), again a piece that fuses beguilingly melodic, restrained touches with a good deal of urgent, athletic activity in the outer movements. The slow Romanza is one of Saint-Saëns’s most seductive inventions and in the set of variations forming the second movement his ingenuity in terms of texture, contrapuntal workings and lively instrumental interplay is finely honed. The disc is invaluable for these two works alone, but “The Swan” and two other miniatures – a Prière and a Romance – show how acute Saint-Saëns was in matching musical ideas to instrumental timbre.