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Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 5

Louis Lortie (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Rhapsodie d’Auvergne, Op. 73; Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 29; Allegro appassionato, Op. 70; Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 103 ‘Egyptian’
Louis Lortie (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHAN 20038   66.51 mins


This gathering of concertante works shows the remarkable range and versatility of Saint-Saëns’s genius. In the third piano concerto of 1869, a work of his early maturity, alongside the Lisztian virtuosity it is also clear that he was susceptible to the influence of Wagner. If not quite at the other end of the scale, his fifth piano concerto is quite different in tone; subtitled the ‘Egyptian’, it was composed during a long winter holiday in Egypt and evokes the sights and sounds of his surroundings and makes use of a Nubian love song. In outline, it is something of a portmanteau work with the first two movements ranging across numerous subsections, but it also shows Saint-Saëns, for all the exoticism on display, turning his back decisively on the modernist advances of Debussy. Alongside these more substantial concertos are two works from 1884, the engaging Rhapsodie d’Auvergne, uniquely for Saint-Saëns, based on a French folk song, and the suavely brilliant Allegro appassionato.

In all four works, the performing is of the highest standard. Louis Lortie is more than equal to Saint-Saëns’s fearsome virtuosity, but alongside heaven-storming finger work is a captivating delicacy, at its most touching in the Rhapsodie d’Auvergne and the quieter moments in the first two movements of the fifth concerto. Equally impressive is the partnership between Lortie and the BBC Philharmonic superbly directed by Edward Gardner. The accompanying is both supple and thrillingly precise while the handsome recorded sound allows a wealth of delicious instrumental detail to emerge.

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Jan Smaczny