Lortie’s Saint-Saëns Concertos 3 and “Egyptian”: The New Reference

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

There have been a lot of new recordings of Saint-Saëns inventive and always enjoyable piano concertos recently, but this series featuring Louis Lortie and Edward Gardner with the BBC Philharmonic looks set to become the new version of reference. It started unassumingly with short piano pieces (including The Carnival of the Animals) as fillers for the equally fine Chandos recording of the two cello concertos, but no one could have guessed that the performances to come would be this great. What makes them special is Lortie’s complete lack of preciosity. For once, we understand the sympathetic relationship between Saint-Saëns and Liszt–for this is virtuoso music, and it deserves to be played that way.

You hear this most obviously, of course, in the quicker music, especially the thrilling finale of the “Egyptian” Concerto. But it’s not just that Lortie plays it quickly–the performances reveal an unprecedented level of detail in both the solo and orchestral parts. There’s genuine interplay between the piano and the accompaniment, thanks in large part to Edward Gardner’s equally bold and beefy accompaniments. Certainly, Lortie has the touch and sensitivity to deliver the music’s more poetic moments such as the opening of the Third Concerto, and the central movement of the “Egyptian,” but I can’t think of any other versions that convey as much pure, physical joy as these.

The couplings are equally splendid, especially the rarely heard Rhapsodie d’Auvergne, which is wholly delightful. Toss in first rate engineering, and the result is a mandatory acquisition for anyone who loves this composer, or this music.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This One

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