SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto no. 5 in F Major, Op. 103 “Egyptian”; Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; FRANCK: Symphonic Variations – Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano/L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Charles Dutoit – Decca

by | Nov 18, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto no. 5 in F Major, Op. 103 “Egyptian”; Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; FRANCK: Symphonic Variations – Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano/L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Charles Dutoit – Decca 475 8764, 66:23 (Distrib. Universal) ****:

Recorded in Geneva, 1-3 February 2007, the two Saint-Saens concertos by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Charles Dutoit perfectly capture the finesse and savoir that always mark this composer’s keyboard concertos. Composed in Cairo in 1896, the F Major “Egyptian” Concerto hints at the exoticisms of North Africa, perhaps more of Tunisia than Egypt, rife with pentatonic scales and a dreamy, Nubian love song for a second movement. While the French have always displayed a natural penchant for this haunting work–Darre, Collard, Entremont, and Tagliaferro–I vividly recall a most compelling performance from Detroit by American virtuoso Lorin Hollander and conductor Neeme Jarvi.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet receives about as much air time as any current pianist, and his is a solid sound from a big technique. Rather slick in his approach to most of the music he plays, the Saint-Saens concertos suit him admirably; and if anyone were to succeed in popularizing the First and Third concertos, I’d bet on him. Lovely and delicate woodwind touches from oboe, clarinet, and bassoon complement the digital pyrotechnics and string tremolandi. The last movement of the Egyptian, typical of Saint-Saens’ affinity to copy Mendelssohn, is less intellectual and strictly aerial acrobatics, the figures tumbling over each other while pointing forward to Poulenc. The familiar Franck Symphonic Variations first entered my consciousness via Walter Gieseking and Henry Wood on 78s. Alternately rippling and brooding, the piece neatly subdivides into three sections, the second of which floats in Belgian harmonic ether. The last pages, the extended coda, bubble both in the piano and Suisse Romande horn parts.

The G Minor Concerto receives a carefully thought and lyrically rendered performance, each moment projected on a grand scale. Dutoit himself is a veteran of the Saint-Saens style, and his Decca issue of the master’s tone-poems still makes strong points. After the opening Bach toccata from Thibaudet, the Andante sostenuto spins out most broadly until the Bach returns. The playful Scherzo steals from Chopin and hints at Litolff. Splashy and intricate riffs ingratiate the final tarantella, boisterous and irreverent, rollicking fun. A good natured, buoyant musical experience all around.

— Gary Lemco
 

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