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Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 etc (Kantorow)

Alexandre Kantorow (piano); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow (BIS)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Saint-Saëns
Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Valse-Caprice, ‘Wedding Cake’; Allegro appassionato, Op. 70; Rapsodie d’Auvergne; Africa, Op. 89
Alexandre Kantorow (piano); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
BIS BIS-2400 (CD/SACD)   85:02 mins

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This is very special. The previous disc of Saint-Saëns’s piano concertos from the father- and-son team of conductor Jean-Jacques and pianist Alexandre Kantorow featured exceptionally impressive performances of the Third, Fourth and Fifth concertos. This jam-packed and equally outstanding second volume includes the first two concertos along with the composer’s shorter works for piano and orchestra. From the fervent Allegro appassionato via the frolics of the Rhapsodie Auvergne and ‘Wedding Cake’ Valse-Caprice to Africa’s extraordinary travelogue and, of course, the concertos, musicality is to the fore.

The virtuosity is breathtaking, yet nothing is hard-pressed, for the younger Kantorow has that hallmark of the greatest performers of always appearing to have plenty of time. The flourishes swooping down and back up in the First Concerto’s finale sound as effortless as if he were brushing his fingers across the strings. The opening of the Second Concerto is magisterially thoughtful. Rather than a tub-thumping, hell-for-leather rush, the conclusion sparkles with exhilarating joie-de-vivre, for everyone is patently having immense fun.

The Tapiola Sinfonietta play their part, from the First Concerto’s opening horn calls and string shimmers or the creamy bassoon solo in the same work’s sublimely heartfelt slow movement, to the thrillingly incisive string interjections in Africa. With the entirety of this packed hybrid-SACD captured wonderfully by BIS’s engineers, every detail is clear, yet sounds natural. In short, this disc completes a Saint-Saëns piano concerto set that has few peers and none that are better.

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Christopher Dingle