Saint-Sa‘ns, Chopin

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin,Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Caprice brillant; Fantaisie after Weber’s Oberon; L’air de la pendule; Fantaisie for violin & harp; Caprice d’après l’Étude en forme de valse (arr. Ysaÿe)
PERFORMER: Philippe Graffin (violin), Pascal Devoyon (piano), Catherine Beynon (harp)
This fascinating archival trawl of ‘Rare Transcriptions’ begins with a piece that sounds remarkably similar to the last movement of Saint-Saëns’s Third Violin Concerto – and so it proves: the Caprice brillant, written for Sarasate in 1859, was orchestrated and revised 20 years later to form the finale of the B minor Concerto (another Sarasate dedication). It’s that sort of disc – familiar music dressed in unfamiliar guises. Two Chopin Nocturnes are given make-overs by Saint-Saëns who, rather than merely transferring the thematic line to the violin, transforms them into genuine duos with piquant counter-melodies. Ysaÿe (strangely not credited by Hyperion as the transcriber of Saint-Saëns’s Étude en forme de valse) makes a clumsy mismatch of the posthumous E minor Waltz, not helped by an unconvincing performance, but the G minor Ballade is as ingenious musically as it is persuasively executed, its great central theme played in searing octaves. After all these, the three remaining pieces by Saint-Saëns come as a decided anticlimax.


Graffin and Devoyon offer fine, committed performances in a recording that favours the former. Graffin produces a beguiling tone in the Nocturnes and elsewhere, though in forceful passages he becomes unattractively edgy and nasal – talking of which, I wish he would ration his closely monitored intakes of breath. Jeremy Nicholas