SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concertos, Vol. II = No. 3 in E Flat Major; No. 5 in F Major

by | May 17, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concertos, Vol. II = No. 3 in E Flat Major; No. 5
in F Major/ Anna Malikova, piano/WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne/
Thomas Sanderling – Audite multichannel SACD 92.510, 60:56 ****:

The five piano concertos of St.-Saens are not frequently heard and that
is a shame in view of the endless repeats of the Tchaikovsky, Grieg and
Schumann warhorses. They are all well-composed examples of the best of
French instrumental music of the later 19th century and full of lovely
melodies that would appeal greatly to concert audiences. I hadn’t
enjoyed any of them for some time and it was a pleasure to have these
two concertos in enveloping hi-res surround. I don’t know how we missed
out on Vol. I but plan to check into that.

Brian Bloom talks in his Denon receiver review this issue about the
people who often prefer the stereo mix on SACDs to the multichannel. I
admit I seldom check either the CD or stereo options anymore because I
always hear about the same thing in comparison. I really can’t imagine
why anyone with five properly matched and located speakers would prefer
the stereo mix to the multichannel mix! On these concertos the
two-channel option is excellent and there is little one would miss.
However, when switching to the multichannel option the soundstage takes
on a depth and breadth it didn’t have, and the piano is better
separated from the sound of the orchestra. There’s much more “air”
around everything. The piano still sounds too wide but that’s a given.

The first movement of the Third Concerto is so bombastic one might
almost think the composer was humorously depicting a lion or elephant
from his Carnival of the Animals. It’s slow movement is rather
brooding, but the finale is a colorful showpiece for the soloist. The
Fifth Concerto is sometimes subtitled “Egyptian Concerto” because that
is where it was composed. St.-Saens frequently spent time in North
Africa, which had started when he was a child with a medical problems.
He indicated the middle movement was a sort of tour of the Orient. One
theme in it is a Nubian love song which the composer had heard boatmen
on the Nile sing. The opening and closing movements are however
thoroughly French. Orchestration is very colorful, with solos
originating in the winds and strings.

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