LABELS: ASV Quicksilva
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4; Piano Concerto No. 5; Africa; Wedding Cake; Rapsodie d’Auvergne
PERFORMER: Angela Brownridge (piano); Hallé Orchestra/Paul Murphy
CATALOGUE NO: CD QSS 262
Saint-Saëns was probably the most brilliant-minded and best-connected musician of his day, his career spanning the entire gamut of French Romanticism. His plentiful music is rigorously Classical in form yet brimming with virtuoso display, drama, energy, wit and the panache of a Cyrano de Bergerac. This is not easy to evoke in an age where many shy away from the enjoyability of showing off and where Saint-Saëns is too often dismissed as lightweight.
Full credit to Brownridge for enterprise: the concertos, with the exception of No. 2, have been neglected, and the riotously inventive shorter works are scarcely ever performed. Brownridge plays with plenty of heart and pays great attention to details such as the suggestion of high harmonics over the melodic line during the Egyptian slow movement (No. 5). She struggles occasionally, however, to sustain the necessary combination of velocity and power – the tarantella finale of the Second Concerto, for example, sounds garbled here and there. And the creation of atmosphere – the dramatic openings of the first and second concertos in particular – is good but never extreme enough. It lacks that essential edge of panache.
The set is up against the benchmark of Stephen Hough’s Hyperion recording with the CBSO under Oramo, which is a real winner. Hough’s touch has the consistent power, attack and glittering clarity that Brownridge can’t quite manage and he and Oramo romp through concertos, fantasies and the Wedding Cake waltz with all the fun of the fair. Over the top? So it should be. Jessica Duchen