Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 5

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COMPOSERS: Saint-Saens
LABELS: Mirare
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 5
PERFORMER: Brigitte Engerer (piano); Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/Andrea Quinn
CATALOGUE NO: MIR 079

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It’s good to see Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Concerto emerging at last out of relative obscurity. Stephen Hough told me some years ago that wherever he played it in the world, audiences went wild, and I can quite see why (on two counts).

To some extent the Second Concerto deals in the same textures – light, airy, sparkling – and in this domain Brigitte Engerer is satisfactory without ever really lifting off. Engerer’s pedaling can also be rather on the heavy side, and in the middle of the boisterous finale of the Fifth Concerto (Saint-Saëns meets Art Tatum) there are moments when important orchestral detail
is lost under piano chords.

For lighter pedaling and more brilliant fingerwork in both concertos, try Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Decca. And while the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris undoubtedly plays well on the new recording, in one or two places the orchestra is a touch behind the soloist, and in the opening pages of the tarantella finale of No. 2 there are moments when the rhythm wobbles slightly.

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But for me the clincher is in the scherzo of the Second Concerto, in which Engerer inflicts an appallingly vulgar rallentando on the second tune. Thibaudet doesn’t do it, and it’s quite uncalled for. Roger Nichols