Review By William Bender,American Record Guide,May 2012
With Saint-Saens, the atmosphere is the thing. The melodic writing is deep and appealing, and his harmonies rich and brilliantly colored. As significant as anything is the vibrant string tone he seems able to draw from every twist and turn he gives his players. It seems certain that there is nothing this composer could not do.
Review By Art for Art’s Sake,January 2012
His [Saint-Saëns’] chamber music is elegant and refined, among the best of the late romantic period…For this post I have picked a Naxos recording of his beautiful and virtually unknown string quartets, composed in 1899 and 1918. Excellent playing by the Fine Arts Quartet. Very rewarding music, highly recommended. © Art for Art’s Sake
Review By Massimo Viazzo,Musica,November 2011
Review By Peter Grahame Woolf,Musical Pointers,November 2011
Saint-Saens’ two string quartets…championed by a venerable American quartet which has been active touring and recording for over half a century, three of its members with them for nearly thirty years…Definitely well worth hearing, and for quartets wanting to extend their repertoires to consider taking up. © Musical Pointers
Review By Jerry Dubins,Fanfare,September 2011
Saint-Saëns came to the string quartet late in life, at least by the measure of most composers’ life spans—he was 64 when he wrote his first quartet in 1899 and 83 when he wrote his second in 1918—so one might wonder if by the turn of the century he wasn’t a spent force, having already written most, if not all, of the major works by which he is known. But there are exceptions—flashes of his former self—in the Second Cello Concerto (1902) and the Second Cello Sonata (1905), in the Cinq poèmes de Ronsard (1907–21), and surely in the final triptych of wind sonatas (1921). In the last 20 years of his life, Saint-Saëns actually wrote a great deal, but much of it—songs, choral pieces, incidental music, dramatic scenas, and a
Other than his admiration for violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, to whom the first quartet is dedicated, it’s hard to know what prompted Saint-Saëns to suddenly decide he needed to add his two cents to the string quartet literature. He’d come this far without feeling any particular urge to grace the medium with a work of his own, so why now?
The booklet note tantalizingly suggests a connection to Vincent d’Indy, who author Keith Anderson speculates may have expressed some interest in a classically styled string quartet by Saint-Saëns to use as a model of cyclic form in his composition class. In the end, however, Anderson claims d’Indy rejected the idea in favor of the far less than classically styled quartet written 10 years earlier by his teacher, César Franck. That Saint-Saëns openly despised Franck, d’Indy, and the whole Schola Cantorum circle, and that no doubt the feelings on the other side were mutual, makes such a scenario seem improbable.
Saint-Saëns was incapable of writing anything that sounded less than professionally polished and gratifying to the ear, but considering the history of the string quartet up to the time he addressed it in 1899, the E-Minor work strikes this listener as much ado about very little, a tornado in a thimble. It was obviously written with Ysaÿe in mind, for the first violin part dominates with virtuosic passagework more appropriate for a concerto titled “in modo meshugante.” The first movement, almost 12 minutes in duration, is practically a nonstop, hold-on-to-your-seat ride in a fast and furious machine, and it’s not only the first violin that gets a workout. This may partially explain why more ensembles haven’t taken up the piece—too much sweat, too little payback. The antecedent for this type of string quartet writing may be the quatuors brilliants of Louis Spohr.
The scherzo-like second movement continues in the whirling Dervish-like vein for another six and a half minutes. Not until the third movement does Saint-Saëns provide a sense of real repose in a Molto adagio strongly reminiscent of the parallel movmore....
Review By Luis Gago,Ritmo,September 2011
El inmensamente prolifico y desigual Camille Saint-Saens cultivo el genero del cuarteto de cuerda solo al final de su vida. Uno de las agrupaciones fetiche del sello Naxos, el Fine Arts, ha sido la encargada de grabar estas dos rarezas raramente escuchadas o programadas. No encontramos en ellas, ni mucho menos, al mejor Saint-Saens, por lo que no es de extranar que ambas obras hayan caido en el olvido. En ellas el frances tira de oficio, que le sobraba por todas partes, y recurre a su vena mas clasicista para construir dos paginas amables, que tampoco encuentran en el Fine Arts al mas refinado de los interpretes. Como ya se ha senalado en otras ocasiones en estas paginas, los estadounidenses tienden a tocar todo de forma muy parecida, estilistica, timbrica y dinamicamente hablado.
Review By Brian Reinhart ,MusicWeb International,August 2011
Camille Saint-Saëns’ string quartets are not the chirpy, cheery, tune-laden gems we would expect from the composer. They are not as instantly attractive and romantic as the concertos, nor as easily accessible a combination of formal simplicity and autumnal sorrow as the late woodwind sonatas (available on a superb recent Naxos disc). If anything by Saint-Saëns can be honestly called challenging, it is these two string quartets. But the rewards are well worth your listening time.
Review By William Dart,The New Zealand Herald,July 2011
The Fine Arts Quartet’s new recording of the Saint-Saens String Quartets comes up with more revelations…Ardent performances demand a reappraisal of an underestimated composer. © The New Zealand Herald
Review By Robert Johnson,Radio New Zealand,July 2011
The Fine Arts Quartet is a distinguished ensemble: its current line-up is very impressive, and they make an extremely convincing case for these two little-known quartets. Recorded in the Netherlands, this disc is beautifully engineered and can be unconditionally recommended to anyone with a taste for 19th-century chamber music. © Radio New Zealand
Review By Christian Starke,www.klassik.com,July 2011
Review By Terry Robbins ,The WholeNote,July 2011
Naxos has issued a fascinating CD of Saint-Saëns String Quartets (8.572454) played by the Fine Arts Quartet. Saint-Saëns was born ten years before the premiere of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and died eight years after the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, but such radical change was never reflected in his music. The quartets are both late works—the E minor Op.112 from 1899 and the G major Op.153 from 1918—but it’s hard to tell from their decidedly 19th century musical style. It’s quite astonishing, for instance, to think that the Op.153 was written by a French composer during the last year of the Great War, and ten years after Schoenberg had first abandoned tonality; in places it’s almost Beethovenian. Fine Arts
Review By Frédéric Cardin,La Scena Musicale,July 2011
…une démonstration brillante de savoir-faire et de profondeur stylistique de la part d’un homme arrivé en fin de parcours avec un bagage intellectuel et artistique d’un niveau exceptionnel. Interprétations justes et soignées. © La Scena Musicale
Review By Joaquim Zueras,Sinfonía Virtual,July 2011
En fin, dos cuartetos que podrán gustar más o menos, pero que merecen ser conocidos porque en ellos brilla la inteligente pluma de Saint-Saëns, no siempre suficientemente valorado. La agrupación Fine Arst Quartet, fue fundada en Chicago en 1946, habiendo realizado un buen número de grabaciones y giras por todo el mundo. El cuarteto de solistas se muestra sólido, resuelto y con una elegante plasticidad desprovista de innecesarios manierismos. Un fraseo muy cuidado, en el que todo resulta dúctil, fluido y desenvuelto. © Sinfonía Virtual
Review By Björn Gustavsson,Ovanmyra Missionshus,June 2011
Saint-Saëns ”String Quartets” med Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos): här möter några av musikhistoriens vackraste, mest rikhaltiga och mest komplexa verk—och med uttolkare som denna ensemble blir resultatet fantastiskt. Att lyssna på denna skiva är som att besöka ett själsligt spa. © Ovanmyra missionshus
Review By James Manishen,Winnipeg Free Press,June 2011
YOU usually think of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) as an expert craftsman with a fund of memorable melody set to charm and please, not a composer to challenge, argue or reflect in his music. But Saint-Saëns was far more than just a functional composer, as shown in his two string quartets written when he was in his 60s and 80s.
Quartet No. 1 in E minor is autumnal and deeply reflective; its dedication to the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe is evident in the featured writing for the first violin. The slow movement could almost be a Beethoven cavatina. No. 2 in G major recalls Mozart initially, but quickly moves into its own world.
Review By Bryce Morrison ,Gramophone,June 2011
Music to change minds: two quartets that show Saint-Saëns’s hidden depths
The Fine Arts Quartet continue their admirable series (Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Franck and Fauré) with Saint-Saëns’s two string quartets. And here they make a persuasive case for music that is not only “brilliantly crafted” but “serious and intellectual” (their leader Ralph Evans). Certainly the First Quartet in E minor in particular is a reminder of music beyond the elegant facility with which Saint-Saëns is habitually credited. He may have “produced music as an apple tree produces apples” (his own words) but later in his life the string quartet provided him with a special challenge.
Review By Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.,The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics,June 2011
what comes to mind when thinking of this composer are the big orchestral and operatic works (and that ubiquitous Swan!). But there exists also a wealth of chamber music works in most forms and some rather unusual combinations, yet no works for piano and chamber ensemble—a bit surprising since Saint-Saëns was a performance-calibre pianist himself. The quartets, especially the later one in G, Op. 153 are rather modern-sounding—not much romantic flavour there. The Fine Arts Quartet has had many changes of personnel over the years, but its standard of playing has never been less than superb—as is the case with these quartets, with much presence and warm sound in the recording.
Review By Remy Franck,Pizzicato,June 2011
Die vier Musiker des ‘Fine Arts Quartet’ zeigen ihre Kunst einmal mehr in Werken, die nicht gerade zum geläufigen Repertoire gehören, und werden aus Überzeugung zu erstklassigen Anwälten der beiden Quartette von Camille Saint- Saëns…Das erste Quartett fasziniert mit einem melancholisch und hintergründig brodelnden ersten Satz, einem virtuosen zweiten Satz, einem wunderbar kantablen, tief empfundenen Adagio und einem nervös dramatischen Finalsatz. Im dreisätzigen Quartett op. 153 hatte Saint-Saëns kein so reich gefülltes Füllhorn an kompositorischen Einfällen zur Verfügung. Aber, was an Einfallskraft fehlt, macht das Fine Arts Quartet mit typisch französischer Eleganz wett. Und so haben
Review By Ralph Moore ,MusicWeb International,May 2011
I am in agreement with other reviewers elsewhere that this is music which does not yield up its attractions on first listening. A certain cool formality—very different from that which we more readily associate with the composer of his more popular compositions—disguises its profundity. One reviewer even goes so far as to say that the failure of his string quartets to please or succeed, relative to Saint-Saëns’ popular works, is explained by their lack of memorability. This to me suggests lazy listening; certainly the members of the distinguished American group the Fine Arts Quartet believe in this music. Their first violinist Ralph Evans describes them as “serious, intellectual, brilliantly crafted yet delightful works which will change minds in a
Despite having already written a good deal of chamber music, Op. 112 was Saint-Saëns’ first foray into the medium of the string quartet. These are both mature works, written when he was in his sixties and eighties respectively; the second, in particular, exudes the melancholy nostalgia associated with old age. His love of Bach and Mendelssohn is manifested in the frequent archaic and neo-classical allusions in his music and a love of the fugue, a favourite form which appears several time at different points in these works. Yet Saint-Saëns’ sound-world is clearly not entirely retrospective; it contains many Impressionistic touches, unsurprising from a composer whose career spanned the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth.
The E minor quartet begins in a melancholy vein, sombre and formal; there is always a note of anxiety throughout. The second movement calls for some superbly articulated triplets in the restatement of the principal theme. The Molto adagio is dominated by the singing of the first violin, presumably in homage to the dedicatee Eugène Ysaÿe. Played as well as it is here, this movement seems to match the poise and tenderness of the Beethoven Cavatina; there is the same sense of time suspended. In a more agitated passage a tentative, stuttering syncopated figure alternates with the slow theme before they resolve into the spacious calm of the concluding two minutes. Finally, the mood of agitation returns in the last movement which close uneasily with a frantic passage for the violin.
I have seen the Op.153 described as “a sunny, playful work” but that is really only half the story. It opens in neo-classical, Mozartian vein—momentum and elegance in a serene G major with some arresting shifts of key. The slow movement employs some exotic melody and harmony, perhaps the result of the composer’s familiarity with North Africa. It contains another serene cantabile dryly described by the composer with his typical wit as “deadly dull as an Adagio should be”. It is in fact teasingly beautiful, featuring towards the end little spiralling, descending curlicue figures on the first violin suggestive of acceptance and resignation. After the slow, contemplativmore....
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