Saint-Saëns: Neme Järvi
This is pure pleasure. The Symphonies and Concertos of Saint-Saëns are well represented in the catalogue, but, aside from Danse macabre, few conductors explore much of his other orchestral music. More fool them, for this marvellous new disc from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Neeme Järvi is a collection of sparkling gems. They range from the charming postcard of Une nuit à Lisbonne via rareties such as Marche du couronnement to the brutality and mad dash of Phaëton. It is wonderful to hear the latter as part of a sequence of the composer’s four Symphonic poems. Järvi paces each masterfully, from the cheeky seduction of Le Rouet d’Omphale to the battle between pleasure and virtue of La Jeunesse d’Hercule.
It is true that some pieces, like the Marche militaire française, are jolly diversions, but even these are of superior craftsmanship. Moreover, it is easy to forget how shocking audiences originally found the ‘Bacchanale’ from Samson et Dalila, never mind Danse macabre, with its violin re-tuned for the devil and persistent repetitions. Järvi manages to inject both with a whiff of sulphur. And the early Spartacus emerges as, if not a masterpiece, then at least a significant work.
The RSNO is in top form, with shimmering strings, colourful woodwind and swaggering brass, full of wit, colour and joie de vivre. The recording is also outstanding, sounding great in stereo while the surround mix is beautiful, giving a wonderful, natural bloom that is perfect for this effervescent music.