Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5
Romain Descharmes (piano), Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Marc Soustrot (conductor)
This is the third volume of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concertos from this team on the Naxos label and it brings the project to a splendid conclusion. Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concertos are frequently under-rated works but all are well worth getting to know and being added to your collection.
Of the five piano concertos composed by Saint-Saëns, Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44 does not get performed as often as it should. This is a pity since the Fourth reveals Saint-Saëns at his most inspired and innovative, not least in its unorthodox form. Eschewing the traditional three movement form, which Saint-Saëns adopted for all his other piano concertos, it bears a structural similarity to his Symphony No. 3 (the ‘Organ Symphony’), written 11 years later in 1886. It comprise two ‘official’ movements, each of which is divided into what might be termed two ‘submovements’.
The Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 103 ‘Egyptian’, was composed some two decades after the fourth. It was composed in the Egyptian temple town of Luxor, and displays a rich tapestry of exotic cultural influences from Javanese, Spanish and Middle Eastern music, as well as portrayals of chirping Nile crickets and croaking frogs, and the composer’s representation of ‘the joy of a sea crossing’.
Romain Descharmes, one of the foremost French pianists of his generation, highlights the charm and beauty in these works without being over sentimental. Soustrot and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, who are no strangers to the orchestral works of Saint-Saëns, accompany with great aplomb. Maybe these forces don’t quite equal those of my go to choice of Saint-Saëns’ complete works for piano and orchestra from: Stephen Hough (piano), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo (conductor) on Hyperion¹; but at budget price these performances are unmatched. Combine this with the excellently captured sound and this Naxos release has no difficulty in picking up our bargain of the month award.
¹ The Hyperion set (CDA67331/2) contains truly marvelous performances of the concertos and a number of encores all captured in demonstration quality sound ().