Essential Saint-Saëns from Märkl and Malmö

Review by: David Hurwitz

Ascanio

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Here’s a terrific disc for record collectors looking to complete their collections of Saint-Saëns’ orchestral music. The ballet from Act III of Ascanio is typical French dance music, and heaven knows there’s nothing wrong with that. In just twenty-four colorful, fun-filled minutes you get, in addition to the usual waltzes, gallops, and adagios, a splendid little Bacchanal with skirling oboes and antique cymbals, and a terrific ensemble number backed by castanets which may not take place in Spain, but hey, I won’t tell if you won’t. There are even two alternate numbers included to make the ballet absolutely complete.

The remainder of the discs consists of more rarities–overtures and preludes to Saint-Saëns’ many unknown theatrical works. Perhaps the only item you might have heard of will be the overture to La Princesse jaune. The rest will be new to most listeners, and delightfully so. The Prologue to Les Barbares is the biggest work here: essentially a fifteen minute long tone poem of great seriousness. La Jota aragonese (unlike the ballet music) really does offer typically Spanish melodic material, without however quoting that famous tune of the same name from Glinka’s Spanish Overture No. 1.

The remaining works, the overture and Act IV prelude to Andromaque and the Overture to an Incomplete Opéra-Comique, offer more of the composer’s effortless fluency and seemingly inexhaustible melodic imagination. You really can’t go wrong here, especially with Jun Märkl leading such vivacious performances, equally well played and recorded. This disc is a mandatory acquisition for anyone who cares about either the composer or good French theater music.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

  • SAINT-SAËNS, CAMILLE:
    Ascanio (ballet from Act III); Overtures and Preludes to theatrical works (see review for details)

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