COMPOSERS: Camille Saint-Saëns
ALBUM TITLE: Saint-Saëns
WORKS: Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2, The Carnival of the Animals, Africa; Wedding Cake
PERFORMER: Truls Mørk (cello)/Louis Lortie (piano)/Hélène Mercier (piano)/Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHSA 5162 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Truls Mørk’s account of Saint-Saëns’s first concerto is an object lesson in how to shape musical energy. This brilliantly-written heroic work is often the preserve of the inexperienced, and it’s a joy to hear it handled with such sophisticated mastery. Following a gloriously tumbling opening, which veers on the edge of control, he reins in the solo line with impressive poise as he leads into the first orchestral episode. He returns, all intensity cast off, a debonair nonchalance thrown on. In Mørk’s hands, the ardent second subject and glorious mélodie that forms a slow movement is powerfully restrained to extract maximum tension. The Norwegian’s noble command is ideal in the darkly blazing, virtuosic second concerto. One of our great lyric instrumentalists, he gives a deeply-felt, but never over-dramatised performance, a piercing tenderness underlying what can sound sentimental in the hands of a lesser artist. Bergen’s beautifully-tuned winds create subtle intimacy in the idyllic Andante. The fiendish Allegro moderato is crisply effortless, if perhaps lacking Steven Isserlis’s wild abandon and, only here, the Bergen strings don’t quite feel on top of Järvi’s exacting pace. I wouldn’t be without Isserlis’s vivid set (BMG), or Natalie Clein’s uniquely effervescent readings (Hyperion), but Mørk’s elegance is undeniably compelling.
This bumper package also boasts a classy Carnival of the Animals (Hélène Mercier and Louis Lortie contributing serious skill and infectious humour, Mørk an Apollonian Swan) and two piano-and-orchestral party pieces: the ‘Wedding-cake’ Caprice and gloriously over-blown Africa, in which a sparkling Lortie has a field day, and the Bergen players exude gallic suavity.