Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Suite in D, Op. 49

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COMPOSERS: Saint-Saens
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Suite in D, Op. 49
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1040

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The debt owed by French music to Saint-Saëns is often overlooked. At a time when many composers saw opera as the only way forward, Saint-Saëns took the supposedly Germanic forms of symphony, sonata and concerto, and transformed them into something idiomatically French. His five concertos for piano and orchestra demonstrate his own skills as a pianist and reflect his admiration for Liszt. These elegant performances come as the fourth instalment from the Tapiola Sinfonietta under Jean-Jacques Kantorow of their excellent series of the complete orchestral works of Saint-Saëns. Noriko Ogawa is a compelling soloist, with wonderfully skittish handling of the filigree passages. It is true that, like so many other performances, the Bach-inspired opening to the famous Second Concerto does not flow entirely naturally, and Kantorow is equally culpable with the first orchestral entry. Here, as elsewhere, Jeanne-Marie Darré’s recordings of the concertos, under the baton of Louis Fourestier, are immensely illuminating, even if the Fifties EMI France recording sounds as if it was made in a cardboard box. There are countless recordings of the Second Concerto, with Emil Gilels’s high-spirited daredevil approach (Testament) being the most thrillingly enjoyable, while Cécile Ousset under Rattle provides a relatively recent alternative. The most useful comparison here, though, is with complete sets. Aldo Ciccolini under Baudo (EMI) is sublime and the combination of Pascal Rogé and Charles Dutoit (Decca) rightly has many admirers, but, if the poor sound of Darré is off-putting, Jean-Philippe Collard and André Previn are unsurpassed among recent versions.

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Christopher Dingle