Saint-Saens' Third Violin Concerto, though it used to be regarded as something of a warhorse, has rather fallen out of fashion in the concert hall now. Composed in 1880, up until 1928 it had been performed 15 times at the London Proms. Since then it has been played only once...by Ida Haendel in 1989. This is, perhaps, because it is not among the very greatest violin concertos and nor can it quite compete with, say, Bruch's 1st, Mendelssohn's or Tchaikovsky's violin concertos in melodic memorability and, therefore, in the public's affection. However, it is a very fine work indeed and, when well performed, as it is on this disc, it makes a very strong impression.
If you're familiar with Kantorow's other discs of Saint-Saens' violin concertante works, you'll know that he is an enormously imaginative and magnetic player who prefers fast speeds (he dispatches the concerto in a little over 25 mins...possibly the fastest recorded performance ever) and who records with a chamber orchestra instead of a full symphony orchestra. Woodwind and brass are well to the fore and there is a feeling of excitement and spontaneity in these performances which I've rarely encountered on record. However, this doesn't mean, for instance, that there is any lack of poetry in the concerto's lovely slow movement.
Next comes Ysaye's arrangement of the "Etude en Forme de Valse". This is absolutely electrifying with everyone playing as if their lives depended on it and the "Caprice Andalouse" which, in spite of its springy habanera rhythms, is not, perhaps, the best of Saint-Saens's shorter violin works, is also played for all it's worth.
The disc continues with the "Prelude" to the oratorio "Le Deluge", a piece which begins with some rather dour polyphony and then introduces a lovely, and once popular, melody for a solo violin. Heini Karkkainen is then a splendidly alive soloist in the well-known "Wedding Cake" Valse-Caprice and the rather less attractive "Allegro Appassionato"
All this music is given a crisp and beautifully balanced recording. This is definitely one of the best Saint-Saens discs available. Don't hesitate!