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5.0 out of 5 stars A very welcome reissue of a highly acclaimed recording - required listening for admirers of Saint-Saens, 20 April 2013
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This review is from: Saint-Saens: Piano Trios Nos.1 & 2 (Audio CD)
Saint-Saens' chamber music seems to have been a pretty much neglected field as far as the record companies were concerned until the last few years. Recent releases, however, have proved how unmerited that lack of attention was. The two trios here are separated by some three decades and, while there is an increased seriousness of tone in the later E minor work, their pairing here indicates how early the composer's accomplished and successful marriage of Classical form and Romantic warmth was manifest and how he stuck to the compositional principles he had adopted in his youth, despite the musical developments taking place around him.

The F major trio hails from 1863, a period when instrumental music was hardly in vogue in a French musical world that gravitated to opera and ballet to the almost total exclusion of any other genre. It is an upbeat work, melodically memorable and fresh sounding, as the opening 'Allegro vivace' bears witness: as you'd expect, that sonata form opening movement is structurally neat but the composer plays around slyly with the time-signature frequently confounding the listener's expectations - is it two-time or three-time? There is something of the same rhythmic sense of humour at play in the effervescent scherzo too, with its use of off-beat writing in the piano part but interposed between these two vivacious movements is an 'Andante' of deeper emotional import: the drone-effect of its opening statement picks up on the rustic elements that are a characteristic feature of the trio as a whole so the movement doesn't sound incongruous amidst its buoyant surrounding but as the 'Andante' progresses, those pastoral elements are contrasted with music of a more passionate nature; although the composer was said to have been inspired by the folk music of the Pyrenees in this work and though to a musicologist the songs of the two regions are quite different I am sure, I have more than once been reminded of the more lyrical outpourings of Canteloube's 'Songs of the Auvergne' by parts of this movement. The finale is of a piece with the opening movement and scherzo to a large degree, charming and witty with sparkling and extrovert figuration in the piano part, it makes for an immensely satisfying conclusion to what is an immensely satisfying piano trio.

If the E minor trio of 1892 displays the same assured handling of structure, in terms of scale and mood it aims for grander and more serious modes of expression. The impassioned and often agitated 'Allegro non troppo' that opens the piece is, I think, one of his finest and most dramatic sonata-form movements, rising to a shattering climax at the end of the development section, the memorable opening theme stated with the utmost intensity. After such demanding music, the three short central movements provide a well-judged contrast - though even during the quirky minuet (second movement) the composer turns again to the minor and there is a distinct echo of the agitated tone that had so markedly informed the preceding 'Allegro'. Between the minuet and the waltz fourth movement (marked, 'Gracioso, poco allegro') a brief 'Andante con moto' intercedes with music of considerable feeling but also a more consolatory tone. The finale, though short too at around six minutes duration, returns to the mood of the opening movement and reveals Saint-Saens mastery of contrapuntal technique - but the latter never sounds routine or academic due to the pronounced urgency and forward momentum of the movement and the quality of Saint-Saens material (indeed, both trios are very strong from a melodic point of view, I should note).

At full-price this recording was a sure-fire recommendation for these works but now it has been reissued on Harmonia Mundi's budget 'Musique d'abord' label it becomes even more compelling a purchase: anyone interested in the music of the composer or French chamber music should hear this. Both works are beautifully written but the E minor trio is a masterly composition, I think, and should be a staple of the repertoire; to be honest, I find its neglect quite mystifying. Harmonia Mundi provides the artists with pristine yet warm and beautifully balanced sound and the performances are second-to-none: Trio Wanderer respond beautifully to the varied moods that occur across both works, capturing the wit and joie-de-vivre of the F major trio and realising the haunting beauty of its 'Andante' - the opening bars of that movement with the drone effects is one of those moments where you find yourself holding your breath as you listen; they are no less attuned to the intensity of the E minor trio, however, and the climax of the first movement is perfectly judged, for example. All three performers display consummate technique as well as sensitivity to the varying emotional requirements of the music so it feels slightly unfair to single any one of them out but Saint-Saens' writing for the piano contains some extremely demanding passages so I think it is only right to mention how admirably pianist Vincent Coq rises to the occasion. On a slightly less happy note, my one cavil about this re-release is the flimsy cardboard packaging - a gatefold sleeve with the disc barely contained within a pocket on the inside; also there are no liner notes as such, just a brief and perfunctory paragraph or two printed onto the cardboard. It's a minor irritation, to be sure, but one that I personally don't mind putting up with for the sake of such rewarding music and such fine music-making on the part of the performers.

Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a winner from Saint Saens, 14 Nov 2013
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Stanley Crowe (Greenville, SC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Saint-Saens: Piano Trios Nos.1 & 2 (Audio CD)
Since I bought this recording, it has moved to a mid-price offering, and it is well worth picking up. The trios were written about 30 years apart, but both are full of an infectious rhythmic energy, and the only thing that seems to be being expressed is the pleasure of music itself. I don't know Saint Saens's work well, but in these trios, he shows a gift for constructing short musical figures of from two to five notes that function as rhythmic units rather than as melodic fragments, and then iterating them through a variety of combinations of instruments to form the thematic material of the movements. A sense of unity is achieved by the listener's catching a sense of that thematic material in movements across the pieces -- it's never merely repetitive because of the skill with which Saint Saens varies the presentation. The developments of the ideas in both Trios ask a lot of the musicians, and some of the solo moments are stunningly played. Certainly a virtuoso pianist is called for, and there is much pleasure in Vincent Coq's playing here. But the violinist (Jean-Marc Phillipe-Varjabedian) and cellist (Raphael Pidoux) aren't outdone, and the hell-for-leather final movement (including the quasi-fugue) of the second trio would have you out of your seat demanding an encore in a concert. Good sound, great playing, substantive music -- go for it!
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Saint-Saens: Piano Trios Nos.1 & 2
Saint-Saens: Piano Trios Nos.1 & 2 by Trio Wanderer (Audio CD - 2012)
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