Saint-Saens: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor; Cello Sonata No. 1 in C minor; Romances Opp. 36 & 51

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Saint-Saens
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor; Cello Sonata No. 1 in C minor; Romances Opp. 36 & 51
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello), Michael Tilson Thomas, Dudley Moore, Pascal Devoyon (piano)LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61678 2 DDD
‘Concerto!’ says the box front, comprehensively hiding its light. I don’t mean the presence of Dudley Moore (star of the TV series) in the small print – he and Michael Tilson Thomas are the pianists for a beguilingly drawn-out Swan. It’s rather that the disc’s distinction lies in the couplings: a survey of Saint-Saëns’s music for cello and keyboard that takes in the substantial Sonata No. 1 and some real rarities. Two suave, smiling Romances set the tone of the latter; they include a Chant saphique which moves from easy-going amiability into more ambivalent moods and harmonies, and a surprising Prière with organ – this is a piece from the composer’s eighties, contemporary with late Fauré and sharing something of the same elliptical serenity.


Isserlis has just the right feel for most of the music, bringing a light touch to its vigour and melodic ease. In the concerto he and Tilson Thomas judge a sequence of speeds that keep the proportions of the whole piece in mind without short-changing the diverse character of each episode.

The only down-side is a reluctance to live at the nerve-ends: the sonata’s first movement has a Brahmsian doggedness, the Allegro appassionato is more ‘apatetico’ until the very end, and the concerto too is short of manic pace – you need to have heard Paul Tortelier letting fly in this music to know how it can go.


Still, everything is done with skill and care, and the sum of the parts is its own recommendation. Robert Maycock