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Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

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In 2019, Alexandre and Jean-Jacques Kantorow’s recording of the last three piano concertos by Camille Saint-Saëns earned the highest praise around the world, including a Diapason d’or de l’année, Editor’s Choice in Gramophone and top marks and recommendations from the leading German web sites Klassik Heute and The Kantorows’ orchestra of choice was the Finnish ensemble Tapiola Sinfonietta, and they have now returned to Helsinki to record not only Saint-Saëns’ first two concertos, but all of the remaining works for piano and orchestra.

Presented on this amply filled disc, the program spans 33 years, the earliest work being Concerto No. 1, regarded as the first significant French piano concerto and written by a 23-year old composer. Ten years later, in 1868, Saint-Saëns composed the Concerto in G minor, a work which at first met with consternation although Liszt – who was present at the first performance – thoroughly approved of it. The work, which begins with the soloist playing what resembles the improvisations of an organist, soon became popular however, and remains one of Saint-Saëns’ best-known works. The shorter pieces which make up the rest of the program were written between 1884 and 1891, and could be said to reveal different aspects of the composer: Wedding Cake was written as a wedding present to a close friend, in Rhapsodie d’Auvergne Saint-Saeëns explored French folk music, while Africa is a piece of pure Orientalism, reflecting his lasting affection for North Africa.


What amazed me about young Alexandre Kantorow’s performance was the intensity of the opening cadenza and the subsequent tutti passages where it’s hard to imagine that it’s a chamber orchestra we’re hearing! His treatment of the soloist’s role is always powerful but never lapses into brashness.

All the fill-ups are lovely, but for me the most gorgeous was the Wedding Cake Caprice. The performances have been brilliantly captured and are presented in SACD format.

-- Limelight

The prospect of a recording of any of Saint-Saëns’s works for piano and orchestra is always a delightful one. You know you are in for an hour or more of music that lifts the spirits with its joie de vivre and inexhaustible supply of memorable ideas. The prospect is enhanced, on this occasion, by the same soloist, orchestra and conductor who gave us Concertos Nos 3, 4 and 5 back in the long-ago pre-pandemic days...

There is a palpable exuberance and joy in the way these works come across, none more so in the four concertante works for piano and orchestra, the effervescent Wedding Cake caprice, Rhapsodie d’Auvergne (an early use of French folk song, years ahead of d’Indy and Canteloube), Allegro appassionato (not the better-known work for cello with the same title) and Africa (who else was using North African folk music at this time?).

The album also includes the woefully neglected Piano Concerto No 1, with its opening horn call reminding us of the end of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. If the rousing finale doesn’t hook you, then try the haunting slow movement with its prescient passages not only of its successor but of the kind of impressionistic writing that anticipates Ravel by half a century.

It’s a terrific programme – unique for a single disc, so far as I know – clocking in at 85 minutes, and another feather in the cap of the gifted soloist and his partners. The recording offers an exemplary balance between piano and orchestra in a realistic acoustic[.]

-- Gramophone

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: April 01, 2022

  • UPC: 7318599924007

  • Catalog Number: BIS-2400

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Romantic

  • Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns

  • Conductor: Jean-Jacques Kantorow

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tapiola Sinfonietta

  • Performer: Alexandre Kantorow