13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An outstanding release of Saint-Saens' chamber music,
This review is from: Saint-Saens: Piano Quintet/ Piano Quartet/ Barcarolle (Fine Arts Quartet, Cristina Ortiz) (Naxos: 8572904) (Audio CD)
Although all three of the works on this disc were new to me (I know, tut tut), such is Saint-Saens' gift for lyricism and melodic lines that even upon a single hearing, the works firmly fixed themselves in my ears. It's hard not to be seduced by this music, especially when the advocates for these works are of such a high calibre.
The Fine Arts Quartet and Cristina Ortiz have collaborated many times before, including several very well-received releases for Naxos, and I am delighted to say that this CD is up to their usual standard. The level of understanding between the players is evident through the superb sense of ensemble, amply demonstrated throughout each work. They begin with the B flat major Piano Quartet, an instantly attractive work that displays fine playing from all. I was initially a little concerned by a few - very brief - moments in the first movement, where first violin Ralph Evans seemed to have a slight tendency to veer on the sharp side (such as the trill, 5:08), but fortunately this was nowhere to be found on the remainder of the disc, nor did it affect my enjoyment of the opening movement in any significant way. I loved the playful scherzo-like third movement, ripe with Mendelssohnian impishness, not to mention the finale of Schubert's `Death and the Maiden' Quartet. It's fascinating to hear Saint-Saens dealing with these influences but coming out on the other side with his own, distinctive compositional voice.
Sandwiched in between the Quartet and Quintet is a Barcarolle, Op. 108, which the blurb on the back of the CD case describes as `gorgeous'. It's true: originally scored for piano, harmonium, viola and cello but later arranged by Saint-Saens for the more conventional ensemble of piano, violin, viola and cello, this is simply a beautiful piece of chamber music. From the lilting opening of the cello and the rippling piano effects, to the more impassioned middle section and back again to its restful conclusion, it's clear that Saint-Saens was feeling especially inspired during its composition. Moreover, this Barcarolle acts as the perfect filler between the two more substantial works - hats off to whoever devised the programming for the disc.
The Quintet fairs no less well than the other two works, and Ortiz's exquisitely clean articulation in the first movement could scarcely be bettered. I should also mention that the sound here and elsewhere on the disc is excellent in every respect: balance between piano and the string instruments is pretty well ideal to my ears, and the sound quality is beautifully clear, detailed and warm.
In short, superb performances of very attractive repertoire, wonderfully captured on a disc worth twice its asking price.