This recital comprises, they tell me, the complete oeuvre of Saint-Saens for cello and orchestra. It contains even more, in the shape of a `priere' for cello with organ, and in the symphonic poem La Muse et le Poete the cello soloist Steven Isserlis is partnered tastefully by Joshua Bell on his violin.
Good taste is the hallmark of everything here, from the composer, from the soloists, from the orchestra and from Francis Grier on the organ. Nothing is de trop, and the recorded sound (various dates in the 90's) is beautiful in quality and seemingly in total sympathy with the music entrusted to it. Vigour is certainly called for sometimes, notably in the second concerto, but such an artist as Isserlis can despatch the technical demands with effortless power and without compromising his sangfroid and poise. Right at the start I thought that the solo was rather forward, in much the way we were used to for decades, but this impression does not persist and I am prepared to be contradicted about it (not that I ever minded that kind of concerto balance anyway). The second movement of the first work is written by the composer in a way that relegates the orchestra to a quiet background role, so the cello ought to be prominent there in any case, and my initial impression does not come back to me anywhere later in the recital.
There is a liner note by Michael Steinberg that is perfectly adequate as long as it sticks with the music, that is to say right up to the short last paragraph, which Steinberg inflicts on the soloist. Not only does he use the ghastly expression `classy', he finishes by telling us that Isserlis has `the most individual voice among cellists today', adding triumphantly `What more could one want?' Seeing he asks, I'd say that less of this ill-judged peroration would have been more.