For fear of appearing superfluous, I don't very often review discs that have already been reviewed several times, especially when my opinions are much the same as those already expressed by others; this superb collection of Saint-Saens' symphonic poems and other orchestral pieces has really impressed me, however, and I do feel it merits additional plaudits.
From the point of view of repertoire, it usefully collects all the symphonic poems together but there are also some rarities here as well, such as the early - and fairly substantial - overture 'Spartacus', which I had never heard before. It might not display the same sophistication in scoring or thematic development as the later and more famous pieces but it is well constructed, melodious and at times quite atmospheric - a very welcome discovery indeed. Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra make an excellent case for the piece, as indeed they do for all the music here - they are very much at the top of their game; much as I admire Järvi for his sterling work in rescuing the music of composers who have slipped into obscurity and much as I treasure many of his recordings, I've sometimes found his interpretations of "standard" repertoire somewhat lacking in personality or insight (his disappointing Brahms symphonies, for example) but everything here is quite marvellous. As one reviewer has noted, some of the music is taken at a faster pace than you might expect but personally I find that Järvi's approach reaps dividends and I felt no sense that anything was rushed or, where required, lacking in gravitas: the Bacchanale from 'Samson et Dalila' is a case in point, one of the most spirited and lively I have heard but Järvi has a sure grasp of the piece and it wants nothing for exotic allure. The artists are helped to no small degree by the excellent sound provided by Chandos (the recording is a hybrid SACD one, which I listen to as a regular CD), which has beautiful clarity, presence and impact: even though I am familiar with 'Phaeton' and was expecting it, the titular character's cataclysmic downfall still made me jump the first time I heard this performance and throughout the disc Saint-Saens' mastery of orchestration is captured faithfully, whether it be sensual and evocative or scintillating in effect.
Really, when other reviewers have already covered this release in some detail, there is no point in my writing on it at great length: the point of my review is simply to reinforce what they have already said - this is an excellent release, containing some wonderful music making; anyone who admires the composer should add it to their collection and if you have never heard these works before, you can be assured that this makes for a perfect introduction to them.