Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos Nos 1, 2 & 4
Louis Lortie (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHAN 20031 70:58 mins
Back in 1975 the Penguin Stereo Record Guide, while finding limitations in Saint-Saëns’s five piano concertos, described them as ‘first-rate gramophone material’. The works may indeed be short of weight and depth, but who would pass up such home entertainment of impeccable craftsmanship? Louis Lortie proves excellently skilled in the necessary arts for these concertos. He can chatter and twinkle for bars on end, sculpt touching phrases, and produce splendid decorative flourishes.
Orchestral beauties start right away with the lively First Concerto’s opening horn call and echo: the first of numerous structural quirks in music that refuse to behave properly. Concerto No. 2 is particularly wayward, beginning thoughtfully like Bach, whirling in the scherzo with scales and arpeggios, and ditching a proper slow movement. No. 4 offers more fun and games, crowned with a catchy melody finally set free from the formal straitjackets audible elsewhere. Throughout, Lortie and orchestra prove a good team, nimble and bright, bouncing with virtuoso bravura. All we needed from Lortie’s fingers was a greater sense of a smile, to match the one on the listener’s face.