SAINT-SAENS: Chamber Music = Sonata for Bassoon and Piano, Op. 168; Romance for Horn and Piano, Op. 67; Sonata for Oboe and Piano, Op. 166; Romance for Flute and Piano, Op. 37; Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 167; Caprice on Danish Airs for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Piano, Op. 79 – Akane Makita, p./ Soloists of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome – Brilliant Classics 95165, 66:54 (8/28/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The versatility of French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) finds gracious realization in this assemblage of his chamber music output, 1837-1921, the very year of his death. Despite their absorption of a variety of musical styles, the pieces each engage in narrative thoroughly idiomatic to the instrument in question, of which the last sonata for woodwinds derive from his final year of creative activity. The composer retained his gift for pert, elegant, and jubilant melodies; and the keyboard writing – here executed in consistently high dudgeon – by Akane Makita exhibits the suave facility of the composer-pianist at every measure. The wind instrumentalists here are members of Rome’s main orchestra, attached to the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Each offers seasoned playing, especially the fine work by Francesco Bossone, who, coincidentally, sports the bassoon.
The Romance for Horn (1885) provides a clear example of Saint-Saens’ ability to conceive a chamber work that often aspires to heroic gestures. The figuration runs the gamut of intimate whispers to narrative declamation, with a coda rife with fertile imaginings. Alessio Allegrini does the French horn honors with a suave poise that Dennis Brain might well praise. The 1871 Romance for Flute (as performed by Andrea Oliva) enjoys the same floating lyricism in its outer sections as “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals, a sylvan incantation of melody that Delilah sings for Samson. Mr. Oliva’s flute art certainly has my aural memory comparing him to Rampal.
The sonatas of 1921 – those for oboe, bassoon, and clarinet – exhibit a remarkable classical compression, especially in their truncating of the exposition material to collapse the second subject as an extension of the first. Francesco Di Rosa intones in clear, articulate phrases the Op. 166 Oboe Sonata, assisted in liquid figures from pianist Makita. Their persuasive rendition of the work’s middle movement Allegretto repays the cost of the CD. Little wonder Di Rosa had been a favorite of conductor Claudio Abbado. I first heard the Clarinet Sonata as performed by Richard Stoltzman, who clearly sold me on the value of the work, especially its rich exploitation of the instrument’s diverse voices, of which his deep chalumeau resonates fondly in this performance. Finally, the 1887 Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs, whose melodic versatility belongs entirely to the composer, rather than to national tunes. Each of the four instrumentalists – flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano – has his bravura moment in the sun, and then adds to a kind of brisk energetic fugue finale. The eminent sense of pleasure in virtuosity infiltrates every measure of this jaunty, aerial ride.
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