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ClassicsOnline Home » SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4
Saint-Saens Concertos 2 & 4
Saint-Saens and Idil Biret together is an apotheosis! The piano concerts Nos. 2 and 4 represent the bridge between the Romantic and the Modern era, as far as classical music is concerned. I consider this plus the Mendelssohn piano concertos that I acquired from ClassicsOnline among the best choices in my collection. Congratulations for the quality of the records.more....
Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)
Concerto No.2 in G minor, Opus 22
Concerto No.4 in C minor, Opus 44
Saint-Saëns enjoyed a long and prolific career as a composer. As a younger man he was a
leading supporter of newer tendencies in French music: in old age his opposition to
Debussy, whom he outlived by three years, earned him a deserved reputation as an enemy of
what was seen as progress. His later critics, who could hardly dispute his technical
command, wrote of bad music well written, an unmerited jibe at a composer who had achieved
much in a variety of fields. An admirer of Mozart, he was known to some as the French
Mendelssohn, and his music always possessed the clarity of form and texture common to
these earlier composers, elements that influenced his friend and pupil Gabriel Fauré and,
vicariously, Fauré's own pupil Maurice Ravel. Gounod referred to him as the French
Beethoven, and these flattering comparisons are evidence of the esteem in which he was
In his personal life
Saint-Saëns was not always fortunate. As a boy he was brought up by his mother and his
great-aunt, two women to whom he was devoted, the latter his first teacher. His marriage
at the age of 40 to a 19-year-old, to his mother's marked disapproval, was predictably
disastrous and was brought to an end, after the death of his two young sons, through
illness and accident. In 1881 Saint-Saëns, on holiday with his wife, simply walked out,
never to return. For the remaining forty years of his life, and particularly after the
death of his mother in 1888, he lavished affection on his dogs and on his pupil Fauré,
whom he had first met as a student at the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris in 1861.
as a boy showed quick intelligence, wide interests and considerable musical precocity. He
entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1848, a year after the death of Mendelssohn, and met
with considerable encouragement from Berlioz, among others who were impressed by his gifts
as a composer and as a pianist. The second of his five piano concertos, the Concerto in G Minor, Opus 22, was written in the
space of seventeen days in 1868 at the request of Anton Rubinstein, with Saint-Saëns as
soloist. The same concert brought a greater contemporary attraction in Sarasate's
performance of the composer's first violin concerto, welcomed more warmly by the audience.
Liszt, however, gave his gracious approval and encouragement: Saint-Saëns impressed him,
and was, in any case, one of the few French pianists to perform Liszt's own piano
concerto opens with a cadenza over a long, sustained note, followed by a first expressive
theme, succeeded in turn by a second subject, again entrusted first to the soloist. The
second movement is introduced by the timpani and relies on two contrasting themes of
markedly different character, the first very much in the spirit of a scherzo, and the
second of overtly popular character. In the last movement Saint-Saëns displays his
command of brilliant piano-writing, ending the concerto with considerable panache.
the immediate reaction of the Cirque d'hiver audience -and critics had at least found the
themes of the scherzo catchy enough - Saint-Saëns immediately turned his attention to the
composition of a third piano concerto, to be performed for the first time in Leipzig
before an unenthusiastic audience. The fourth concerto was written in 1875. It prompted
Gounod's flattering comparison of its composer to Beethoven. Less conventional than its
predecessor in form, the work is in two movements. The first of these offers a theme
shared by soloist and orchestra and duly developed, before the appearance of a second
section, an Andante in A flat. The second movement starts with a scherzo, thematically
connected with the first movement, which later makes an open appearance, as does a lyrical
episode from the second section of the first movement. A cadenza leads without a break
into a transformed version of the first movement Andante theme in a finale that includes
further reference to earlier ideas, giving the whole work a thematic unity not found in
the other piano concertos of Saint-Saëns.
in Ankara, Idil Biret began piano lessons at the age of three. She displayed an
outstanding gift for music and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire with three first
prizes when she was fifteen. She studied piano with Alfred Cortot and Wilhelm Kempff, and
composition with Nadia Boulanger.
the age of sixteen she has performed in concerts around the world playing with major
orchestras under the direction of conductors such as Monteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent, de
Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. She has participated in the festivals of
Montreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens, Berlin, Gstaad and Istanbul. She was
also invited to perform at the 85th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Backhaus and at the
90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Kempff.
Biret has received the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund award (1954/1964), the Harriet
Cohen/Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal (1959), the Polish Artistical Merit Award (1974) and was
named Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite (1976).
Orchestra, London The Philharmonia gave its first concert at London's King sway Hall under
Sir Thomas Beecham in October 1945, and rapidly became recognised as one of the world's
truly great orchestras. As such it was able to attract such legendary conductors as
Furtwängler, Toscanini, Cantelli, Richard Strauss and, principally, Herbert von Karajan.
Philharmonia remains the world's most recorded orchestra, its ever expanding discography
containing over 800 recordings. As 'Britain's musical ambassador abroad', the orchestra's
schedule for 1989/90 includes visits to the USA, Hong Kong, Australia, Spain, Germany,
Austria, Italy and Holland.
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SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4