Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Violin Concerto No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: Claves
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Violin Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Liviu Prunaru (violin); Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/Lawrence Foster
CATALOGUE NO: CD 50-2210
Saint-Saëns’s three violin concertos fit neatly on to one CD, making an undemanding and entertaining sweet-toothed 75 minutes. The earliest of the three is in fact Concerto No. 2 composed in 1858 (but not published until 1879), the year before the ‘first’ Concerto in A major. The latter is a 14-minute one-movement Konzertstück dedicated to the already-famous 15-year-old Sarasate who, 20 years later, was also the dedicatee of the magnificent Third Violin Concerto. The music may be of variable quality (compare the banal final movement of Concerto No. 2 to the inspired finale of No. 3) but, throughout, the unstoppable flow of melodic and rhythmic ideas, the adroit scoring and the masterly, idiomatic writing for the soloist generate an undeniable feel-good factor.

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The Romanian violinist Liviu Prunaru (b1969), playing a 1676 Guarneri (ex-Kubelík), produces a beautifully warm, rounded sound that is a joy to hear, especially affecting in reflective lyrical passages. His account of the Second Concerto’s first movement, with its exuberant Mendelssohnian second subject, is superb, though the finale of the Third Concerto is on the cautious side, its soaring third subject failing to take flight. Philippe Graffin on Hyperion has a brighter, more silvery tone, not as alluring as Prunaru’s but which lends greater brilliance to the bravura sections. Neither quite equal Louis Kaufman’s ravishing 1945 account of the Third Concerto. Prunaru and Graffin agree pretty much on tempi and are blessed with superb accompanists, Brabbins accorded more sharply focused orchestral detail in his recording than Foster. Jeremy Nicholas