Still More Splendid Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos from BIS

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

Everything is cyclical. After years of neglect, pianists are waking up to the reality that Saint-Saëns wrote five splendid piano concertos, and while we may not hear then often in concert, at least they are making it onto disc. If you found Louis Lortie’s Chandos cycle to be perhaps a bit too “Lisztian” for your taste (it wasn’t for mine!), then these slightly less muscular, more intimate versions accompanied by the lighter-toned Tapiola Sinfonietta might be just the ticket. Putting Concertos Nos. 3-5 all on one disc in any case gives us more than eighty minutes of gorgeous music, beautifully recorded and (more importantly) played.

Certainly Alexandre Kantorow knows this music from the inside, and offers countless examples of lovely playing. The Third Concerto’s opening “dream of Schubert’s Ninth” is magical, but he’s still got plenty of verve for the operatic finale. The Fourth’s neo-Bachian chorales and counterpoint sometimes sit oddly next to the soloist’s glittering passagework, but it all hangs together well here, and as for the “Egyptian” Concerto, well, I don’t think anyone matches Lortie in the slashing rhythms of the second movement, but Kantorow projects the music’s gentle exoticism just as well everywhere else. In short, there is nothing here that is less than fully enjoyable, and if that means I’m acquiring a lot of Saint-Saëns these days, then it’s about time.

Incidentally, BIS has Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 in this series played by Noriko Ogawa with the same accompanying forces, and there’s also another version of No. 2 with Laura Mikkola (and the same accompanying forces), so it remains to be seen just how this cycle will shake out when the label gets its series of Saint-Saëns symphonies and concertos completely organized.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Lortie (Chandos)

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