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The Romantic Violin Concerto, Vol. 1 Saint-Saëns
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2004
This recording has all the panache and romantic flair one could dream of for Saint-Saens's extremely underrated violin concertos. Graffin's tone is powerful and incisive but also be as sweet as honey. This is a violinist with poetry in his soul. Brilliant and compelling!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This well recorded disc from 1998,so conveniently couples these three concertos that one wonders why such an obvious coupling has not been regularly made before. It is true that the concertos are not the equal of many of the greatest but nevertheless they remain rewarding in their own right. As Berlioz famously remarked, the young Saint Saens 'knows everything, but lacks inexperience.'

What Saint Saens had was a ready ability to write tuneful or lyrical music that was skilfully composed for the solo and orchestral instruments and which was entertaining. In these ways he wrote much music which gave pleasure without seemingly attempting to scale the heights of greatness compositionally which would assure long term fame after his death.

These three concertos are not all familiar. The third is the best known and receives fairly regular performances. On disc there is a fine one by Lin and also a DVD version by Julia Fischer. Both of those are excellent but coupled quite differently. The first concerto has a good alternative with Chung, again differently coupled. The second concerto is the least played and also the least immediately memorable.

The performances on this disc by Graffin are all very good indeed and capable of sustaining comparison with the best alternatives such as those mentioned above. It has the great advantage of a convenient coupling for collectors and the sound is also very good without spotlighting the soloist to a ridiculous degree which can happen.

I would therefore suggest that this disc deserves to be considered very seriously by anyone interested in collecting all three of these concertos in one convenient package.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2010
I completely agree with the previous reviewer - excellent performances of wonderful and sadly underrated concertos by Saint-Saëns.

I have known the Third Concerto for many years - chiefly through recordings by Kyung Wha Chung and Itzak Perlman. Graffin's performance is slower than Perlman's and his tone is a little edgier but is very convincing.

The Second Concerto (by name though the first to be written - 1858)is a real discovery. Melodious, inventive and full of charm. Graffin's performance is very pleasurable and I will certainly be looking out for other recordings by him.
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This recording of all three of the Saint-Saens violin concertos made for an auspicious start to Hyperion's Romantic Violin Concerto series: it's hard to believe that series has been going for twelve years now but this disc has lost none of its lustre for all its age or for the appearance of rival versions in the catalogue during the meantime. I know that a few voices were raised at the time - and have been since - from those disappointed that the repertoire chosen to start the series was that of a "mainstream" composer but, although the third concerto is justly well-known and has been represented reasonably well on disc, neither of the first two concertos are what you would call staples of the concert hall or studio.

The first concerto (actually, in terms of composition order, preceded by the nominal second) is a concise work, structurally and in terms of scale mirroring the famous first cello concerto, but despite its modest dimensions it still packs a punch, especially in the two dramatic outer movements; the central episode they frame is a short but lyrically rewarding 'Andante espressivo'. I'm inclined to agree with one of my fellow reviewers, however, that the real "find" here is the second concerto in C major: what a marvellous piece this is - more traditional in terms of form, it is generously endowed with melody and technical fireworks, though the latter are never emptily showy pyrotechnics, and written on a grand scale. It displays all the imagination and finesse of orchestration you'd expect from the composer too - the prominent presence of the harp in the central 'Andante espressivo' adds much to the atmosphere and the ceremonial brass statements in the middle of that movement are as imposing as they are unexpected. The third concerto is a real masterpiece, I think, even if it still isn't fully recognised as such by the critics and musicologists: the scale is similar to the second concerto, the structure a little more innovative in the way the weight is thrown forward to the lengthy finale; in terms of melodic material, it is as beautiful and memorable as any to be found in the two concertos that appeared before it.

Philippe Graffin plays all three works wonderfully, with a marvellous sense of attack and beautiful shaping of the composer's melodic lines; every small detail is invested with the same care as the grander or more overtly demonstrative statements; the violin's decorative writing in the pastoral 'Andantino quasi allegretto' of the third concerto, for instance - indeed that movement, one of Saint-Saens' finest inspirations I think, is a joy to listen to throughout. Some soloists have played the music of these works with a more extravagantly fuller tone, I am sure, but Graffin's performances respond as much to the Classical side of Saint-Saens personality as his Romantic sensibility; there is no want of passion or drama, though, as the coda of the second concerto's first movement shows or any of the outer movements of the first and third concertos. Martyn Brabbins displays a similarly sure judgement in his direction of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which comes across with impressive weight, immediacy and clarity in Hyperion's admirable sound: the brass statements in the tutti sections of the second concerto's 'Allegro moderato e maestoso' are truly sonorous and majestic, similarly so the spine-tingling brass chorale at the very end of the third concerto; and the woodwind in the slow movement of the latter work play beautifully and are captured perfectly by the audio engineers.

I haven't heard the complete concertos recorded by Ulf Hoelscher and the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Pierre Dervaux's baton, but I do think this recording has the edge, both in terms of artistry and sound quality, over the recent Naxos release that features all three works (even if that disc remains up there with the best of the Naxos catalogue); Kyung Wha Chung's Decca recording is also well worth hearing, indeed she is a masterly exponent of Saint-Saens writing for the violin, but it is worth mentioning that her disc does not include the fine second concerto, replacing it instead with two shorter, more occasional concert works; links to these recordings are provided below*. Whether you're considering this as a sole recording of the music or as supplement to cherished older recordings, this really is a must-hear disc and I can only agree with the other reviewers' praise of it: highly recommended.

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* Ulf Hoelscher: Saint-Saens: Complete Violin Concertos

Kyung Wha Chung: Saint Saens: Violin Concertos

Fanny Clamagirand (Naxos): Saint-Saens: Violin Concertos Nos. 1-3
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