Saint-Saëns: The Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra Double CD
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As performed at the Proms 2011
Stephen Hough's recording of Saint-Saëns' piano concertos comes as no surprise: he is our leading champion of once-lost pianistic causes--Scharwenka, Sauer and Mompou being among the composers he has brilliantly committed to disc. For all his fame, Saint-Saëns is a harder cause to champion than any of the above, since his music really is at times mere padding. But what those who deride him fail to see is that the Muse also frequently perched on his shoulder, most notably in the Fourth Concerto with its lovely set of variations. They also miss the central point about his art, which reflected a rigorously anti-Romantic stance: "Art is intended to create beauty and character," he wrote. "Feeling only comes afterwards, and art can very well do without it." As the author of Hyperion's excellent liner-note rightly observes, it's ironic that Saint-Saëns ' anti-emotionality should have damned him in the eyes of critics, when Stravinsky's similar stance earned him accolades. Stephen Hough brings his customary grace and precision to bear in these unexpectedly interesting works, ably abetted by Sakari Oramo in the pit. Sometimes the composer paints intimate tone-pictures, sometimes he evokes vast waterscapes, but at all times Hough keeps you alert and on the edge of your seat. --Michael ChurchSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
This recording is by no means bad, but I really can't see any reason for buying it given that the above alternatives are both better and cheaper.
When you buy the set, there is every reason to listen to the pieces in order, for Saint-Saens had a true hit with the finale of the First Concerto, which will have you unable to wipe the smile from your face. The popular Second Concerto and the correspondingly neglected Third, with its bawdy, romping finale are both wonderfully played and supported too.
The shorter pieces in the set are happily included to make the survey complete ("Africa".."Wedding Cake"..)
There is every reason to recommend this release and the sound seems to me not to suffer from the particular closeness which another reviewer has noted, but it may be my equipment which is assisting.
I'm a great admirer of Hough, and his Rachmaninov and Hummel recordings remain amongst the very best, but this just doesn't work for me. Its not that there is much wrong with Hough himself, but the rather four square playing of the orchestra, and poor closeup sound rather spoil things for me.
I think the BBC review quoted above sums it up rather well. The recording is described as "strangely intimate". All very fine for Mozart, but not for these big splashy and showy works.
Sakari Oramo's conducting is no match for either Previn or Dutoit in the main competition to this set, and the Collard/Previn in excellent EMI digital sound, and Roge/Dutoit in absolutely first rate Decca analogue knock the spots off this effort in every way.
Either of these alternatives are available for a pittance on Amazon at the moment, so it won't cost you much to give them a try before spending full price on this. You'll be glad you did.
Also present here are some smaller pieces, a little like Mozart's one movement rondos. Here, as in the Concertos, Mozart's presence can be felt. However it is the synthesis of Mozart's light orchestration and masterful musical development with Stravinsky's neo-classical tendancies (without the edgy harmonies), mixed with one or two surprises such as a chorus of gamelans, that makes this CD full of just about everything that is worth while having in music.
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