Saint-Sa‘ns/Berlioz

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns/Berlioz
LABELS: Telstar Revelation
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor; Symphonie fantastique
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Knushevitsky (cello)Radio Orchestra/Alexander Gauk, Ministry of Culture State SO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
CATALOGUE NO: RV 10062 ADD mono/stereo
Naxos’s survey of Saint-Saëns’s music for cello and orchestra achieves its scope, modest as it is, only by appropriating the composer’s later orchestrations of the piano-accompanied Suite and Allegro appassionato as well as Paul Vidal’s treacly scoring of ‘The Swan’. The highlight is the Second Concerto, which remains unaccountably neglected. The tension between ardour and Rococo charms in the First Concerto may create a more focused and original work, but this virtuosic sequel boasts a lushly Romantic Andante sostenuto, and the drive and scope of the flanking movements outstrip the pretty but (except for ‘The Swan’) unmemorable salon music that fills out the disc.

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Maria Kliegel’s playing is accomplished enough to give an idea of the way these pieces go, but her gruff tone and emerging interpretation are no match for prevailing standards in the First Concerto. Knushevitsky’s tautly poised performance is more considered and eloquent – but why couple this 1949 recording (conducted by Alexander Gauk) with Gennadi Rozhdestvensky’s stately but powerful Symphonie fantastique from 1988? As it turns out, the recorded perspective in the latter highlights the woodwinds to an unbearable extent, and the addition of a bass drum roll to the brassy final chord trivialises one of Berlioz’s most striking moments. David Breckbill