Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2; Symphony in A; Romance, Op. 36

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2; Symphony in A; Romance, Op. 36
PERFORMER: Torleif Thedéen (cello); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
CATALOGUE NO: CD-956
Three decades separate Saint-Saëns’s widely recorded First Cello Concerto in A minor from its successor, dating from 1902. The former is a vivid, eloquent work, full of sensual, lyrical passages which amply justify its popularity.

Advertisement

Unlike some more full-blooded rival performances, Thedéen adopts a patient, self-effacing and Classically unadorned approach, allowing Saint-Saëns’s expressive solo line to speak for itself. He makes appealing use of a light, unostentatious portamento, and aided by a sensitive accompaniment from Kantorow and the capable Tapiola Sinfonietta, enhances the performance with a light touch, a nicely sprung central Allegretto and a series of intelligently effected transitions.

Better still is the neglected Second Concerto, a work of rather different hue in which Saint-Saëns, amid long extended lines, allows himself just the occasional peep harmonically into the new century; and the early Symphony in A, a cheerful teenage work in Haydn-Beethoven vein, of comparable interest to Bizet’s sparklingly precocious C major Symphony.

Advertisement

High quality recordings of the A minor concerto abound. Several, including Lynn Harrell and Heinrich Schiff (both on Polygram) offset it with the Lalo concerto. Both EMI’s latest offering (Han-Na Chang) and its 1968 Du Pré recording, which suffers from an overweighty Allegretto and harsh acoustics, slightly disappoint. Steven Isserlis remains a strong bet on RCA; and although Sony have deleted their widely praised Yo-Yo Ma version, an alternative Sony disc, which features a particularly lucid, well-transferred, historic Philadelphia performance by Leonard Rose, alongside other potboiler concertos by Saint-Saëns, makes a highly desirable bargain alternative. Roderic Dunnett