SAINT-SAËNS Orchestral Works
The core of this CD is formed by Saint-Saëns’s four symphonic poems, Le rouet d’Omphale, Phaëton, Danse macabre and La jeunesse d’Hercule. Neeme Järvi has a fruitful history of recording with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. That factor, combined with the RSNO’s immersion in French music under its most recent artistic director, Stéphane Denève, lends these performances a thoroughly confident air in aspects of style. The playing is full of character, the music’s detail clearly elucidated, the images of Saint-Saëns’s imagination firmly and atmospherically fixed. Even the hint of vulgarity in the ‘Danse bacchanale’ from Samson et Dalila, one of the several other works making up a substantial programme, has a secure raison d’être.
If some of the symphonic poems themselves maintain only a tenuous hold on the regular repertoire, a few of these additional pieces are even less often resurrected. The Marche du couronnement, composed for and performed at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, fulfils its festive function, Saint-Saëns’s credentials for writing it lying in the fact that he had composed an opera on Henry VIII and had tickled the ear of Queen Victoria with a 16th-century English tune woven into its fabric and recycled in this march. The ‘Marche militaire française’ from the Suite algérienne is altogether more airy and light-hearted, the theme towards the end of the early (1863) overture Spartacus capping music of Weber-like exuberance but with fingerprints of Saint-Saëns’s own. All in all this is a disc with plenty to discover and enjoy.