Soustrot’s Saint-Saëns: On To The Piano Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz

SaintSaensPCs

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Soustrot’s Saint-Saëns symphony cycle was quite good, and this new project looks to be similarly successful. For my money, the five piano concertos remain one of the most underrated groups of major works in the entire romantic repertoire. Yes, Nos. 2 and 4 get played more often than the rest, but there isn’t a dud in the bunch. It’s really only prejudice against the French aesthetic–the formal freedom, love of color, flash, and the dance–that prevents the music from getting the recognition that it deserves. That, and perhaps the fact that the melodious ease that informs all of Saint-Saëns’ writing makes a mockery of German pretensions to ownership of instrumental music in large forms.

These performances demonstrate a thoroughly “French” sensibility. Romain Descharmes savors the music’s charm and brilliance without indulging in excessive sentimentality. The First Concerto, with its surprising wiring for horns, has a breezy freshness that completely disarming. It’s played with joyful directness and a complete lack of affectation. I enjoy fast and dazzling versions of the Second Concerto, with its whirlwind finale, but Descharmes treats the piece with almost epicurean relish, nowhere more so than in this sassy, witty account of the central scherzo. There’s no lack of virtuosity, but also time to savor the music’s many harmonic delights.

Through it all, Soustrot accompanies with total confidence, and the sonics are terrific. A disc to savor.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this Coupling; No. 2: Rubinstein (RCA)


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